Many people have never heard of panleukopenia virus, more commonly called "distemper," or have only heard of their cat getting a "distemper" vaccine but don't know why it's important. Others who have heard of it may think it's a disease of the past and no longer a danger, but unfortunately this is not true. My recent experience with this disease in two of my patients has prompted me to try to raise more awareness of why this problem is still relevant.
A virus with deadly consequences
Panleukopenia virus is a member of the parvovirus family. It is closely related to the disease called "parvo" in dogs; in fact, a strain of the feline panleukopenia virus mutated into canine parvovirus in the 1970s, leading to widespread outbreaks in the dog population. This particular strain is still capable of infecting both dogs and cats.
In both species, infection can lead to severe bone marrow suppression causing a very low white blood cell count and severe damage to the lining of the intestines. This damage to the intestines causes diarrhea and dehydration while also allowing intestinal bacteria access to the bloodstream of the infected patient. Meanwhile, the low white blood cell count makes it impossible for a cat to fight off these bacteria or any others they encounter in their daily life. Symptoms include fever, listlessness, severe dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea (which can lead to shock), hypothermia, and death. Some cats die so rapidly that they have almost no symptoms, while others get a milder form of the illness and are sick but eventually recover. Most cats die, with the virus having a 60-95% mortality rate in untreated patients, depending on the age and overall health of the infected individual.
Panleukopenia virus is very contagious, as it is shed in large quantities in the stool of cats (and dogs with the cat-contagious strain) with diarrhea. It is resistant to most disinfectants and can remain viable for over a year in moist environments. It doesn't require direct contact between infected animals and can easily be spread on bedding, people's hands, clothes, or shoes (particularly bad if you step in dog or cat diarrhea outside!), and farm or veterinary equipment. As you can imagine, barns are full of dark, moist places and this disease traditionally would lead to widespread die-offs of barn cat colonies, so many older farmers are familiar with this plague. Nowadays distemper can sweep through feral cat colonies and sometimes shelters, making it a very large concern for people who care for and manage these populations.
Some cats will survive panleukopenia with intensive nursing care, including IV fluids and antibiotics, but this care is very expensive and not always rewarding. It is difficult for individual owners to afford and very difficult to provide in the shelter setting.
Building early immunity
The good news is that there is a vaccine which is very effective at producing solid and long-term immunity to this horrible disease. The trick to good immunity is in the details, however.
Kittens should start on the vaccine for panleukopenia, which is often bundled in with two upper respiratory viruses, at their first vet visit and not later than 8 weeks of age. After that, they need to receive boosters every 3-4 weeks until they are at least 16 weeks of age, and ideally until they are 20 weeks old. This is because any antibodies in their circulation from their mother's immune system can block full effectiveness of the vaccine until they have naturally dissipated. For older kittens and adult cats, just two boosters 3-4 weeks apart are sufficient to induce immunity in 95% of cats. One year later, cats should receive another booster, and after that most only need a booster every 3 years or so.
Quality care in shelters is key
Cats and kittens that first enter a shelter or colony need a few weeks to acquire immunity from the vaccinations; these individuals are the ones most at risk for the infection. I had to care for two lovely 8-month-old boy kittens that were very healthy and robust, but were exposed to panleukopenia sometime around their first vaccination when they arrived at a shelter for adoption. Unfortunately, they did not have protection yet and they died of the infection, leaving behind a family who had fallen in love with them and adopted them just a week before.
Luckily this was a rare case, but it does illustrate an interesting trade-off for adopters. While the best case for the kittens is to get into the safety of a home, away from other cats, as soon as possible, you'll have less risk of heartache if you adopt kittens who have had at least two of the vaccine boosters. Shelters often try to reduce the risk of kittens being housed with older, potentially contagious cats, or keep adoptable kittens in foster homes until they've had a few vaccinations.
Adult cats entering a shelter environment should receive a distemper vaccination as soon as possible. With any luck, a stray might have received vaccines as a kitten and may have some pre-existing immunity that can be boosted, but it will take a few weeks for immunity to build up in a cat who hasn't been vaccinated before. Older cats whose immune systems are naturally declining with age can also be susceptible to infection. This, plus the contagious nature of the virus, is why older indoor cats should still continue to receive "distemper" boosters every 3 years or so at their regular checkups.
What you can do
Aside from making sure your pet cats receive their regular checkups and vaccinations, it's also important to take precautions when interacting with strange cats outdoors or when traveling to areas where vaccination is not routinely available to cat colonies. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before coming home to handle your own cats, and wash your clothing before allowing them to sniff it or picking them up. If you notice any stool in the tread of your shoes or boots, clean them thoroughly and allow them to fully dry before bringing them into the house.
With any luck, you'll never have to deal with this virus. Take precautions with your own cats and donate to organizations that provide vaccinations to feral and colony cats!
Recently, new adopter Nick contacted me for cat behavior counseling regarding his cat, Lance. Lance was hiding under the couch and Nick was concerned.
I told Nick that when Lance is hiding just sit next to him on the floor and read, do work, or talk on the phone. Don't make any overtures toward him so that - from Lance's point of view - Nick comes off as non-threatening. Lance will eventually feel that it is safe to come closer and investigate Nick on his own timetable. It helps to get down to the cat’s level when interacting with him instead of towering over him.
Another idea is using a cat tunnel. Many cats like these for when they do venture out since it gives them a safe place to hide, yet they are out from wherever they are hiding. It's a stepping stone. Even going from the hiding place to the tunnel is a good step.
Another thing Nick can do with Lance is to use an interactive play toy (a fishing pole type toy) and try to spark his interest in play. Even if he is just interested in the toy and only watching it, he is focusing on something else other than his fear. When Lance does venture out from his hiding place, even just a little, Nick should engage him in a little play session to help calm him and be sure to offer him a treat as a reward.
Once Lance begins to see Nick as his provider, he will warm up to his new pet parent. I advised him to visit with Lance as much as possible and care for all of his basic needs. Be calm, encouraging and supportive. Let Lance go at his own pace.
Whenever Nick goes near where Lance is hiding, he should casually greet him with his voice. When Lance does venture closer, maybe sniff at Nick or his shoes, he should just act as if nothing is earth-shattering. Keep it light. Let Lance do the investigation at his own pace. It may take several sessions of Nick sitting near him, playing with him, offering treats, but let him set the pace of the progress.
I also instructed Nick to be sure not to try to drag Lance out. He’ll only run away and have a hard time trusting Nick. Lance is not hiding because he doesn’t like Nick—it’s his way of adjusting and trying to cope with all of the changes. Try tempting him out with a tasty treat or fun toy and he just might forget his fear. Feather toys or string toys attached to poles are great devices to coax him into coming closer. But it is OK if he wants to stay in his safe spot - in these matters, it is always best to go at the cat's pace.
Food can be used as a bonding tool. Feed cats special treats at a scheduled time in addition to offering the cat dry food at all times. This will help him make a positive association between you and the food. Try a particularly smelly brand of wet cat food or traditional cat treats to entice him. "People" tuna fish is good, too.
I counsel everyone in these situations to lavish love and attention on their cats, even if it just telling your cat that you love him. Keep earning trust with new cats through daily care, playtime and routine!
The holidays come fast, not to mention the frenzy of Black Friday sales in the US and multiple craft markets around the world. So early November seems a perfect time to pick up a few unique treasures for the cat lovers in your family, holiday gifts that give to cats as well as people.
Nine Lives Greece has released another creative masterpiece in its 2017 calendar. Featuring gorgeous portraits of photogenic Athenian felines in an attractive layout with space to note your essentials, all proceeds from its sales go back into helping those very same cats through feeding and vet care.
This year’s edition is photographed by José Escobar. The Cuban-born professor is based in Thessaloniki, where he devotes his time to caring for cats, photography, ink painting and drawings. The team at Nine Lives Greece has long been a fan of his work. When they invited him to Athens to photograph some of the 450-plus street cats they take care of every day, he enthusiastically agreed. He describes the experience of working with Nine Lives Greece, photographing the cats and meeting the devoted individuals who care for them, as rewarding and moving.
In contrast to the souvenir cat calendars commonly available at tourist shops and malls, every single cent of profit from sales of the Nine Lives Greece calendar goes directly into the continued feeding and veterinary care of street cats throughout the Greek capital, some of which are featured in the calendar itself.
How to Order
The full-color wall calendar, with captions and holiday dates in both English and Greek, costs 10 euros per copy (excluding postal charges). International orders gladly filled. Simply email your desired number of calendars and your shipping address to Nine Lives Greece (firstname.lastname@example.org). They will email you back your total cost including postage and payment arrangements via PayPal. www.ninelivesgreece.com
Other holiday treasures that benefit Nine Lives Greece, Gifford Cat Shelter, and additional cat care organizations are available from the Purrfect Travels page at the online bookstore by Blurb. Now 20% with code SHOW20 through November 14, 2016.
Nine Lives Greece, a non-profit in Athens, works to humanely reduce the stray cat population there through trap-neuter-return, feeding the street cats, and rehoming. They recently shared the following, an example of people in need themselves going all out to help cats in need. If you'd like to know more about Nine Lives Greece and support their cause, or ask how to provide Mr. Kostas with food for his cats, visit www.ninelivesgreece.com.
We thought we’d take this chance to introduce the followers of Purrfect Travels to a few of Mr Kostas’ cats. One-eyed Dalaras and his friend Bithikotsis, two handsome gingers, were neutered through Nine Lives Greece by tireless trapper Evi, as was female Loulouka, while Sinahis (who is FIV-positive like so many street tom cats) was caught for neutering by another volunteer, Antonis. Huge male cat Tofalos appeared at the colony already neutered, as did his friend Aristocat; perhaps they had moved along from another colony (Nine Lives volunteers have been active in the area) or maybe they were ‘let go’ from a home…
There is still work to be done. Next on Evi’s spaying list are “Mum” and Loulouka, two calicos who are stuck in an endless cycle of pregnancy and birth and have so far resisted all efforts to catch them. The poor cats are thin and worn down by endless pregnancies, and as soon as their current litters are weaned, Evi is determined to catch them and get them to the vet.
Also on the trapping list are four young lads, Allithoroulis, Svouras, Mourfas and Melenios, as well as a couple of siblings who are just 3 months old now but in a couple of months will be ready to be neutered, sparing them the dangers of fights, disease, infections, getting run over during mating season, and, of course, adding to the overpopulation of stray kittens.
We will continue to support Mr Kostas, through the efforts of Evi and Antonis, to get the remaining cats spayed/neutered, and we hope that we will be blessed by more cat food donations to help him continue to feed his beloved cat family.
ON WORK ASSIGNMENT IN ABU DHABI, ENGINEER TERRY MAIMONE ROLLS UP SLEEVES TO HELP CATS IN NEED.
Terry Maimone (L.) brought home 6 Arabian Mau rescues for adoption (one in middle photo) and worked with UAE rescue groups to help curb the stray cat population and care for those suffering under adverse conditions.
Our careers as engineers at a large defense contractor led my husband and I to an extended assignment in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Living in Abu Dhabi for a year officially turned me into a Crazy Cat Lady. Almost immediately upon arrival, I encountered a new type of cat I’d never seen before, the Arabian Mau. These sleek, exotic looking cats with beautiful markings in every color and pattern were EVERYWHERE. Within a couple days of setting up shop in our military base facility, I started feeding the cats on site and had a mother cat bring her two kittens into our building. Thus began my quest to help and rescue the stray cats of Abu Dhabi.
There are very serious issues with stray and abandoned cats in the UAE. The situation is tragic and heartbreaking. I joined a Facebook group called “the bin kitty collective” which is made up of over 17,000 members from around the world. The group is dedicated to TNR, rescue and rehoming of cats in the UAE. Every day my news feed was filled with cats that had been abused, abandoned (including Persians and other long haired breed cats left to fend for themselves outdoors in the sweltering heat), injured, sick, and cats needing adoption or fostering. The “fluffies” (basically any cat that is not an Arabian Mau) are adopted the fastest with some of the Arabian cats living in foster care or vet boarding cages for years.
The reasons for the desperate situation are many including lack of education regarding the value of animal’s lives, lack of TNR education, relatively widespread belief that sterilization goes against moral principles, irresponsible breeding practices and a population made up of many foreigners who often have to leave the country with short notice and choose to abandon their pets if they cannot afford to take them to their home country.
Members of Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi care for strays around the city and on Lulu Island (bridge photo) where many felines make a home.
The saving grace to the dismal situation is that there are formal rescue and a lot of great people working independently through the more informal rescue groups. These groups work selflessly to TNR, rescue, rehabilitate, foster cats and educate the populace. The rescue groups are doing great work to get local hotels and businesses to set up feeding stations and sterilization programs. The local vets are doing everything they can to help by offering discounted rates to rescue groups. Additionally, there are groups of people who work to have cats adopted overseas, mostly in Europe. Sadly it seems that all of these efforts aren’t keeping up with the numbers of cats needing assistance. I do have hope that awareness is increasing along with the number of people helping and that this cat crisis will be brought under control in the coming years.
I did what I could to help while I was there. I had two females spayed and a male neutered. I brought 6 Arabian Maus back to the US with me, donated money to the various rescue groups, and helped pay off some medical bills for other rescuers. I hope to continue bringing awareness to the ongoing situation. If you’re interested in helping, contact some of the formal rescue organizations or leave question/comments for us here.
See: Animal Welfare AD, Feline Friends, Sandy Paws.
From Animal Planet: About Arabian Maus
A recent heat wave has kept most of the USA in temperatures well above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and brought pet issues with the heat to the forefront. For example, anyone who has been paying attention to pets in the media this summer has seen a renewed focus on warning owners not to leave dogs in hot cars. It’s great for this problem to get a lot of publicity, and hopefully fewer dogs will suffer heatstroke or even death as more people are aware of how easily this can happen. Obviously, the same rules apply to cats. Here are six things to keep in mind to keep your "cool cat" comfortable and healthy in the hottest days of summer.
1. Cats in Cars
If you are bringing your cat to the veterinarian, groomer, or boarding facility, do not leave him or her in the carrier while you run other errands during the summer. It only takes 10 minutes for the temperature in your car to rise 20 degrees Fahrenheit and cracking the windows does not mitigate the temperature rise. If it is sunny and over 60 degrees, do not leave your pet in the car.
2. Ventilation at Home
What about at home, though? How hot is too hot for cats? Cats are generally quite heat-tolerant since they evolved in the desert and can thrive in almost any country in the world. Most of the time, your cat will be fine at home on a very hot day, even without air conditioning. It’s important to make sure they have a well-ventilated area, though, because a sunny closed room or an attic space directly under the roof can mimic a closed car and intensify the heat. If you’re able to provide air conditioning, that’s optimal, but even leaving a fan on and a window open (with a pet-proof screen!) will help them to be more comfortable.
It’s important for cats to have access to fresh water all year, but it’s especially important in the warmer months. Make sure that you refresh the water in the water bowl at least once a day to make sure the water source is inviting. Some cats very much enjoy ice cubes in their water bowls, or even as toys to lick at and play with on the floor. Freezing cubes of cat-safe (ie. garlic and onion-free) chicken broth or tuna juice can also encourage cats to have a cool and hydrating treat. Providing a cat fountain may also tempt your cat to drink more. Finally, adding a splash of water to your cat’s canned food is a good idea year-round to ensure adequate hydration.
For cats who go outside, make sure they have access to a shady area or are able to come inside whenever they feel like they have gotten enough sun. Make sure fresh water is also available outdoors so that your cat doesn’t have to choose between coming inside and staying hydrated.
5. Health-challenged Cats
Just as for humans, some types of cats may have extra trouble with the heat and warrant special attention. Elderly cats and cats with kidney disease can be more prone to dehydration, which can be exacerbated in the hotter months. These cats must always have easy access to inviting sources of fresh water. It’s also a good idea to limit the time they spend outdoors or even lying in sunbeams when it’s very hot because they may not realize they are getting overheated or dehydrated. Cats with allergic bronchial disease (asthma) or congestive heart failure may have more trouble breathing in hot and humid weather. Air conditioning is a good idea because it cools, dehumidifies and filters allergens out of the air. Paying special attention to the effort that goes into breathing is also warranted. Call your veterinarian if you feel that your cat’s breathing looks more labored or rapid.
Heatstroke in cats is rare but it’s important to know what to look for. It’s not unusual for cats to be less active or eat a little less than normal during the hot weather, but if your cat is very lethargic, hiding, or has a severely decreased appetite, he could be starting to experience heat exhaustion. More severe cases of heatstroke can show symptoms of shock like collapse, difficulty breathing, vomiting and diarrhea. Seek veterinary care immediately to make sure your cat’s temperature is not elevated above normal and to receive appropriate care if necessary.
This month, Dr. Rachel Geller, cat behaviorist and board member at Greater Boston's Gifford Shelter, advises on a few basics via video. After many assaults on our furniture, we found this one especially helpful.
For other quick and practical tutorials, visit www.giffordcatshelter.org.
Purrfect Travels joins the ranks of projects exhibiting at the Worcester Art Museum.
Leonardo da Vinci. Edouard Manet. Paul Gaugin. Goya. Picasso. The most famous of artists have depicted cats throughout the ages. And those were just the painters.
Walking through Worcester Art Museum's community cat art exhibit featuring the works of not so famous artists honoring felines in all manner of media this summer easily rivaled a special showing of the masters. Some of the works captured cattitude. Others were loving memorials to beautiful pets now passed on. Many were simply stunning. Entries from the old, the young, and everyone in between were elevated to masterpiece.
The best part? Each artist contributed funds to the city's Animal Rescue League. What better and more fun way to do good for cats, dogs, and other animals in need of help than through the creative talents of animal lovers in the neighborhood. A few of the more colorful entries below.
We look forward to bringing this exceptional collection of community art to your "door" this summer on our Facebook page.
Want to join the fun? Grab your camera this summer and send us your photo works of cat art (email@example.com).
DR. ANNE RICHARDS OF CAT DOCTORS VETERINARY PRACTICE
OFFERS CAT HEALTH ADVICE EXCLUSIVELY FOR PURRFECT TRAVELS
We all welcome the coming of spring weather. Warmer temperatures, gentle breezes and pretty flowers are the benefits of the season, but unfortunately the warmer weather also quickly brings the re-emergence of bugs that can trouble us and our pets.
For those who live in areas where the seasons vary quite a bit, winter is a time when many people drop their guard about preventing external parasites for a little while. Of course, in more tropical locations, these pests are a year-round problem. Either way, if temperatures are not consistently below freezing, it’s time to be thinking about fleas, ticks, and other parasites. These bugs are not only a nuisance, causing itching and welts, but they are also important carriers of disease.
Fleas can transmit Bartonella bacteria, the causative agent of “cat scratch fever,“ as well as tapeworms. Ticks carry Lyme disease as well as a host of other, less well-known, infections. Cats do not often get sick from tick-borne diseases, but some cats get severe infections, plus they can bring ticks into the house where they can bite a human.
What’s what when it comes to prevention products
Luckily, there are many good options for protecting your cat against biting pests.
In areas where ticks are not a problem, a simple monthly flea preventative like Advantage (imidacloprid) is usually sufficient to keep fleas from infesting your cat and, by extension, your house. If ticks are common in your area, Frontline (fipronil) can protect against both fleas and ticks. Unfortunately, it does not repel ticks so you should still check your cat each time he goes out for ticks that are “hitchhiking” a ride into the house but haven’t attached yet. Revolution (selamectin) is another good option which protects against fleas, ear mites, heartworm, certain intestinal parasites, and one species of ticks. All of these medications are applied monthly to the back of the cat’s neck. For owners who don’t want to have to remember a monthly treatment and whose cats tolerate collars, there is also a new collar called Soresto, which lasts for eight months and protects against fleas and ticks.
When considering parasite control options, make sure to choose carefully and consult with your veterinarian if you have any questions. There are more products than the ones mentioned and some are also very safe and effective. There are also generic versions of some of the products listed above that have the same active ingredient as the brand-name. However, there are also older chemicals that may be attractive because they are cheaper, but are not as safe for your cat.
Do you have dogs and cats?
Most importantly, never use a dog product on a cat! Dogs can tolerate certain very effective insecticides that are toxic for cats or can tolerate higher concentrations than cats can, so some dog products can cause severe side effects or even death. Read product labels carefully and talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat should be kept away from your dog for a few hours after you put a preventative on the dog. Also, “natural” products are sometimes attractive, but are rarely effective and in some cases contain plant oils which can be toxic to cats.
Heartworms are another warm-weather concern. These tiny worms are carried by mosquitoes and live in the bloodstream of infected animals. Heartworms are primarily a dog parasite and all dogs should be protected year-round from infection in most areas of the world. Cats don’t get heartworms often, but when they do it can cause asthma-like coughing, vomiting, and even death. If you live in an area where there are mosquitoes, a monthly heartworm preventative like Heartgard (ivermectin) or Revolution (selamectin) is a good idea.
Checklist for indoor-only cats
You may wonder whether parasite prevention is only necessary for cats that spend some time outdoors, or whether your indoor cat should receive it as well. If you live in a temperate climate and don’t have any pets who go outside, you may not need to use a preventative, but here are helpful guidelines:
1. Check your skin periodically to make sure you haven't brought in any ticks from outdoors.
2. If you have a dog, or if you live in a warm-weather climate with a heavy flea burden, even indoor cats should be protected.
3. Cats don't have to go outdoors to be protected from mosquitoes. If you ever get mosquitoes in your house, you should consider a heartworm preventative.
These solutions should help everyone enjoy the beautiful spring weather without worrying about pests!
PURRFECT TRAVEL'S 2015 PHOTO CONTEST WINNER ALEXIS KIMONAS KOKKINARIS FROM ATHENS, GREECE COMBINES HIS FASCINATION FOR CATS AND CAMERA FOR A GOOD CAUSE.
I grew up in a family with no pets. My mother didn’t want a cat because she believed she was allergic and I wasn’t interested in dogs. Studying for national exams, I stared out the window at the stray cats in my neighborhood feeling a bit jealous of their freedom while I was stuck inside.
Three years ago, one of my university professors required the students to volunteer as part of preparing for a career so I thought that working for a cat shelter would eventually convince my parents to adopt a cat. I became involved with Nine Lives Greece (NLG) and shortly joined other volunteers in feeding the cat colonies in the center of Athens. I was stunned by the beauty and personality of cats and began photographing them.
While learning a lot about cats, I also observed the prejudice that cats face in Greek society. It’s then that I decided to make cats the main subject of my photography. My volunteer activities at NLG expanded to photographing cats for adoption ads and fundraising merchandise while also trapping cats for sterilization.
Patience and luck are the keys to capturing a cat’s personality on camera. Some are cooperative but many are nervous around strangers so there’s no single way to get that best shot. My goal is to take awesome artistic cat photos, shine a light on the beauty of cats (even those in the most unfortunate conditions such as those found in Athen’s deteriorating Omonoia section), and positively influence people to give them good homes. I hope you enjoy my photos. -- Alexis Kimonas Kokkinaris
For a "purrfect" celebration of Valentine's, I thought it would be fun to write a few tips on how to take “selfies” with your fur babies. Who doesn’t want a photo taken of themselves with their true love?
A couple of weeks before Christmas my friend Pam and I met at a local park with wonderful hiking trails. Joining us was her dog, Springer. As we were walking along the creek we noticed a large boulder which was just
above the level of the trail. We both agreed it would be the perfect location for a selfie with Springer. Pam and I stood on the trail and we had Springer climb up on the boulder. Being that she is a small dog, it made perfect sense to have her at the level where our faces would be. To hold Springer’s attention we had to ask her “did you see the squirrel!” – this gets her excited! After a few takes we finally got a great shot then changed the angle by having Pam take the photo.
We both laughed that our arms were too short and that we needed a selfie stick! I’m thinking with a pet, the selfie stick may be the way to go.
The photo I took of myself with my sweet Keiko (below) was impromptu. Keiko was in a good mood, as I’d been playing with her followed by treats. I scooped her up and grabbed the red “LOVE” ornament from my Norfolk Pine (the Valentine’s Tree) as I thought this would add to the photo. Although it worked, I think if I’d used a selfie stick it would have provided for many more options.
Either way, have some fun taking selfies with your pets. If you can get your faces close together it will make for the best shots. Holding your pet, getting down to their level, or them up to yours, will help achieve this. If you have a
selfie stick try it out. If I’d had a 3rd arm, I would have used a laser pointer to get Keiko’s attention.
For a different type of Valentine's shot, position your pet with objects that say "love." That's Daisy below with my Valentine's tree. This month of love, don't forget to include your furry babies in the celebration.
I received a panicked call from Tom telling me that his cat Toby was not happy with the new dog. After asking some questions, it became apparent that the dog was brought home and immediately given the run of the house. Toby was hissing and swiping at the dog, and he was also hiding. What appeared to Tom as aggression was actually terror on the part of Toby.
I explained to Tom that the most important thing to remember is you need to gradually introduce the dog to Toby, the same as if you brought home a new cat. The dog has to be confined in a room or part of the home that the cat does not spend much time in. The cat absolutely cannot feel that his space is being taken over. This will lead to a total loss of safety and security which is why he is currently not very happy. What I always say to my clients is try seeing things from the cat’s perspective. A new dog in the home is a HUGE, UPSETTING DEAL to Toby. It would be akin to waking up one morning and a total stranger has moved in, who is from another species and doesn't speak your language, and who you are terrified of, and who will not leave no matter what you do. That’s exactly what it’s like for Toby.
Whether you are dealing with aggression or fear, or both, the first step is to stop allowing the behavior that’s causing the deterioration of the cat-dog relationship. The dog wasn’t really doing anything wrong, but puppies are a bundle of energy and tend to run around, which was scaring Toby.
Since Tom did not confine the dog from the beginning, he was going to have to start this entire process over again, the right way in order to provide Toby with a sense of safety and security in his home. I also taught Tom about interactive play. Using interactive play with a fishing pole toy and treats is a tool to help Toby feel safe and secure again in his home. Tom wanted to know how long this this take. This is really up to Toby! Once Tom sees his cat is acting normally again (and this may take days, weeks, possibly a few months) he was instructed to then utilize a baby gate and do a slow introduction with the cat never being forced to see the dog, but enticed to see the dog through play and treats on the other side of the baby gate. Use distraction through toys as needed, rewards with treats to develop a positive association with the dog, and go gradually. Follow Toby’s pace.
In the meantime, I told Tom that his home has to have lots of high resting spaces added to it. Cat trees are ideal, but you can create all kinds of vertical space for cheap using what is already in the home. Also, the litter box setup was to be completely off limits to the dog because the last thing Toby needs is to be surprised by the new dog when he is trying to eliminate in the box.
My final advice: Please try to empathize with Toby's situation and understand that you have to go much, much more slowly in introducing the animals. I know it seems unfair to the dog because he is not doing anything wrong, but in these matters we really have to go at the cat's pace. It's best that the dog does not have free roam of the house yet - don't go along with the thinking that "Toby will adjust," because he will likely be miserable for a long time and other behavior issues may arise. If you do it slowly, eventually the cat will be able to co-exist with the dog.
The "state of the art" in medicine and surgery is always advancing, and there are some truly miraculous therapies for people and animals on the horizon. When you read articles about miracle drugs and new discoveries, though, you may wonder whether there is anything that can help patients right here and now. The good news is that we can make millions of cats' lives better in many ways with some recent advances, even though an all-powerful cure for cancer still remains elusive.
One of the most basic problems for large populations of cats around the world is parasites. External parasites like ticks and fleas make cats uncomfortable and also carry diseases that can be detrimental to cats and the people around them. Internal parasites, which may be worms that live in the intestines or the bloodstream, or single-celled organisms that invade many different organs of the body, can also cause weight loss or even fatal infections. Effective parasite preventatives and treatments, therefore, can provide enormous improvements in the quality of life for millions of cats. Many people don't realize that the days of flea powders, shampoos, and toxic collars are behind us, at least for those of us lucky enough to live in developed countries.
There are many safe and effective monthly preventatives available, in both topical (on the skin) and oral forms, that can be very effective at preventing flea infestations and killing ticks. Some products also prevent or kill certain internal parasites at the same time. New products are entering the market frequently, so you should speak to your vet about the best choice for your pet, as well as ways to watch out for imposters--older, less safe products masquerading in the same dosing forms as more modern choices. Likewise, for internal parasites, we have a number of effective treatments for worms, some of which are topical or injectable if you have trouble giving oral medications to your pet. Medications which can be given topically or by injection can be very helpful for feral cats as well, as they can be given while the cat is anesthetized for neutering and vaccines.
Another area where progress has helped improve the lives of many cats is in the area of pain medication. Recognition of the importance of pain control in animals has greatly increased over the past 20 years and has been the focus of intense research. During and after surgery, or following an injury, combinations of various types of pain medications can greatly help to make a patient more comfortable and speed recovery. These may include opioids, NSAIDs, and complementary therapies including cold laser, massage, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Even feral cats undergoing neutering in trap-neuter-return (TNR) clinics often receive one or more doses of injectable pain relief to make their experience as humane as possible.
Recently, a long-acting formulation of a popular opioid has come on the market, which allows 24-hour pain medication for cats without the need for repeated dosing. NSAIDs specifically approved for cats are also new within the past few years. For longer-term painful conditions, such as arthritis, NSAIDs can also be very helpful for maintaining comfort and mobility in older cats. These drugs must be used with extreme caution to prevent serious side effects, but guidelines for safe use have been established within the past 5 years and the benefit to quality of life in elderly cats has been wonderful.
Finally, much progress has been made recently in establishing guidelines for handling cats to minimize their stress as much as possible. This doesn't sound like a breakthrough that makes headlines and heroically saves lives, but the benefit to the quality of life of cats can be extreme. Organizations like the CATalyst Council in the US and similar organizations overseas have released guidelines and educational materials designed to educate veterinarians and the general public about low-stress ways to acclimate cats to travel in carriers, ways to make veterinary clinics more feline-friendly, and ways to handle cats in veterinary clinics in a non-adversarial manner.
Minimizing stress can save lives by allowing veterinarians to more easily and accurately diagnose and treat cats, by preventing stress-induced complications of illnesses in the hospital, and by simply making owners more likely to bring their cats in for routine and illness-related care. Veterinarians can't help cats that don't visit the hospital and wellness visits save lives by preventing serious illness and diagnosing problems before they become too severe to treat. Anything we as veterinarians and responsible pet owners can do to encourage regular veterinary care, and to help cats be cooperative with their medical care, has the potential to save more lives than any "miracle drug!"
As a cat behavior counselor, one of the more common problems I am asked to solve is about a cat who seemingly attacks out of nowhere. In order to solve the mystery of what is triggering this behavior, I need to get my clients to think like their cat. Such was the case with Ray.
I received from Ray's owner: "I adopted Ray about 8 months ago and while he is normally a wonderful, cuddly cat, he has this total split personality in which he attacks me, unprovoked. I am not sure if this is a normal behavior for cats and he is just acting it out, or if there is something I am doing that is causing this somehow."
First, I needed to figure out the trigger. I asked if Ray ever bit her hand while she was playing with him. Sometimes people use their fingers as toys to entice cats to play, which sends a message that biting flesh is acceptable. Some cats also use biting to solicit playtime, so I asked if she ever threw Ray a toy after he bit her.
I advised her to be sure that all playtime involved an interactive toy. The fishing pole type toy is the best option because that would put a safe distance between the owner and Ray's teeth.
I also thought that biting may have become an effective means of communication for Ray, so we needed to figure this out. He may have been biting for a variety of reasons -- he needs more stimulation, more interactive play, he wants attention and so forth.
Another question involved redirected aggression. This one involves some detective work. This is often misdiagnosed as unprovoked aggression because it appears as if your cat is lashing out for no reason at all. This often happens when you are just walking by, which sounded like what was happening with Ray.
Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is unable to directly react and deal with the primary source of his agitation, so he lashes out at whatever is nearest. Being in such a highly reactive state, it was possible that Ray did not realize he has just attacked his closest companion. The most common occurrences of redirected aggression take place when an indoor cat is sitting at the window and spots an unfamiliar cat in the yard. The reason this type of aggression is so easily misdiagnosed is that the cat owner may not have seen the outdoor cat.
I also asked about Ray's favorite cat tree or window perch. Was it at a window where he can see a neighbor's cat? If so, I advised the owner to move those items to a neutral window. I also suggested some environmental modifications to see if that helps - cover the windows, draw the blinds etc
My last thought with Ray could be what is called "Predatory Aggression." With predatory aggression, the cat stalks you and pounces on you. Cats who display predatory aggression need more appropriate outlets for their prey drive. In this case, I would recommend at least two interactive play sessions per day with Ray. With this type of cat, it's absolutely critical that you use a fishing pole type toy and wind down the action toward the end of the game to allow Ray to relax. After the game, I advised the owner to give Ray a portion of his meal or a treat to show him that predatory behavior toward the appropriate object is filled with rewards. To help Ray engage in normal predatory behavior between interactive play sessions, I suggested puzzle feeders and tunnels, or the owner could hide toys in boxes or paper bags.
After going back and forth, it was clear that Ray had predatory aggression. I taught the owner how to use the distraction-redirection method, which goes like this: When you are in motion and you sense he is going to attack, distract him with the toy and redirect him away from you. When you distract him with the toy, you trigger his prey drive, which will shift Ray out of that aggressive mode and into the positive one of a hunter. Even though he may have been planning an attack on you, Ray would prefer to go after the prey. Then conduct an impromptu interactive play session, moving him away from where he was about to attack you and allowing him to work out his tension in a positive, rather than aggressive, way. Follow this with a special treat that you know Ray really loves. You remain safe and Ray gets to release his anxiety. The good thing about distraction and re-direction training is that it is a positive way of retraining. This method will break the negative behavior pattern and gives Ray a reason to stop attacking you because he's getting playtime, positive attention and treats when he does not attack you.
Two weeks later I received this: "Thank you so much for your help! We’re going on 2 weeks with **no** attacks! Not only have the attacks ceased, but I feel like our bond is stronger. You hit the nail on the head with his hunting instinct frustrations and deflecting his frustration onto me. I have what I consider the world's most wonderful cat now. "
With summer in full swing, some people will pack up the cat along with their clothes, beach towels, and summer novels and head off for vacation. Although few cats actually enjoy traveling, for some cats this is a mild inconvenience, while for others it is pure torture for them and for their co-travelers. Cats who yowl loudly or who experience vomiting, urination or defecation while in the car or plane are miserable and are no fun to be around!
There are some cats for whom motion sickness is the inevitable result of any form of travel, but for many others, simple preparation and conditioning can maximize their chances of a smooth and low-stress travel experience. This preparation can also make veterinary excursions much less stressful as well.
First of all, cats must be in a carrier to travel safely, but the carrier should not be relegated to the basement or garage for most of the year. Your cat's carrier should spend most of its time in a quiet corner of your house and contain a comfortable towel or blanket. Hopefully your cat will come to see the carrier as a cozy den where he can curl up for a nap occasionally. Throw some treats in from time to time to increase his chances of seeing it as a familiar, positive place. Once in awhile, close the door while he's in there, pick up the carrier and take him for a walk around the house. If he stays calm, graduate to taking him for short car rides around the block. Your chances of having a calm traveler are even higher if you start this process when your cats are kittens and get them used to traveling at an early age.
For any crate travel, make sure your cat has an absorbent and comfortable layer at the bottom of the crate, such as a towel or fleece. It can be helpful to use 2 layers, as long as they don't take up too much space, so that if the top later gets soiled, you can pull it out and discard while leaving your cat another layer to lay on. Feliway spray or wipes can also help to calm your cat while he is in the carrier. Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone, which is a chemical scent marker that cats leave behind when they rub their faces on objects that belong to them to reassure themselves. This product is readily available in pet stores and online. Some cats do best when they can see where they are going, but many cats are quieter and calmer if you cover the carrier with a towel or blanket. Cats like to hide, and being in a dark covered space makes them feel safer.
For those who need to take a cat on an airplane ride, it is even more important that your cat be used to his crate or soft-sided carrier since they will spend a long time inside. It is always safest to travel with your cat in the cabin of the airplane, but if you have to bring multiple cats or you are traveling internationally this will not be possible. Always check with your airline before traveling to make sure your carrier meets their specifications and about which documents, such as health and rabies certificates, they require. This will help avoid a last-minute trip to the vet for health verification or an overdue vaccine.
If your cat will be with you in the cabin, you will need to take him out of the carrier at the security area so that his carrier can go through the x-ray machine. It can be nerve-wracking to hold on to a frightened, possibly struggling cat in a crowded place. Some people find it beneficial to get the cat used to wearing a harness prior to travel, which will gives an extra "handle" to hold on to while trying to restrain the cat.
If you are traveling internationally, make sure you thoroughly research your destination country's requirements for animal importation. These can be complicated and may involve placing a microchip, making sure that his rabies vaccine falls within a certain time period, having a rabies antibody titer checked, and last-minute deworming and flea/tick treatments within 24 hours of travel. You may need to start the process as much as 6 months in advance, so make sure you do your homework. In many cases, using the services of a company that specializes in transporting animals internationally can save you many headaches, as they are experts at navigating the paperwork and customs requirements.
We rarely recommend drugs to make travel easier, but you can talk to your veterinarian about options if your cat is extremely fearful or carsick. Some options your vet may offer include antihistamines to make your cat drowsy, a mild sedative, or an anti-nausea drug.
With preparation, you can travel with your cat without both of you becoming frazzled and frantic. Happy trails!
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