Inside the brain of a/your felid…

September 15, 2016

This week I’m focusing on the mental health of the oft misunderstood, furry carnivore Felis catus. And for everyone who hasn’t studied Latin (just about everyone these days!) I’m talking about our domestic cat.

It’s very hard on these adorable, complex meat eaters (and their owners) when people say “I hate cats”.

As I write this blog, my little domestic short hair, Ellie, is sitting on my arm, making the use of my keyboard even more difficult than usual (my staff and clients will happily attest to the fact that I’m a four-finger typing wonder on a good day).

The saying ‘dogs have owners, cats have slaves’ is incredibly apt.

As vets we tend to cajole a dog into doing what we want; with a cat – we have to try and make them think that it was their idea in the first place. Trying to MAKE a cat do something? “Therein lies the way to madness”….or something like it. All you have to do is Google “how to give a cat a tablet” to understand how it’s going to turn out.

Perhaps that’s the reason some humans have such a rabid (ha, ha) dislike of cats.

Cats don’t try to please us. In fact many seem to, at best, tolerate our presence as a necessary evil; at worst, show us complete disdain and indifference.

Humans are basically gregarious souls, so cats can engender severe feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in us with very little effort.

Yep, us ailurophiles (cat lovers) definitely require a healthy dollop of self-worth to enjoy the experience of cat ‘ownership’.

We also need to understand their nature to ensure they have an enjoyable life in human-land.

Cats are often solitary little beings who aren’t particularly keen on being given a ‘friend’ to stop any loneliness.

Quite often the introduction of a second cat into a household does not bring great joy to the existing feline family member.

Cats are also unlikely to leap with joy at the introduction of a new baby into the house.

If you have a stressed cat at home you may not even know.

You might just be annoyed because they are poohing on your bed, shredding curtains, attacking you from behind a potted plant or spraying on your shoes, clothes and walls.

So if your cat is annoying you, it’s important to know that there is a very good reason for their behaviour.

Look at when it started.

What changed?

Cats HATE change.

Did you introduce a new dog/kitten/baby/Great Aunt Martha into the house? Have you got new neighbours with new cats roaming around? Is there a new stress in the household of any type? Your cat will know…..

Sometimes it can be very hard to know what is causing the problem. But here are some things you can do to help:

• If you have more than one cat, you should have the same number of kitty litter trays in the house as cat ‘families’ plus one. So if you’ve got three cats; two who get on (a family) and a third who doesn’t get on with either of the other two – this means you have two ‘families’ and need two plus one equals three trays.

• Feliway sprays and adaptors (plug in slow release products) contain a pheromone which makes cats happy. We use both in our vet clinic and they do work!

• Catnip plants and sprays can also help some cats to relax

• Have special hidey-holes for your cat to disappear into – especially in three dimensions i.e. not just at ground level. Cats like going up – a cardboard box on a bookshelf is a great hiding place and gives a sense of security – especially good for getting away from a dog or toddler…or Great Aunt Martha.

• Toys – totally underutilised with cats - Kitty Kong Wobblers, scrunched up paper, feathers,

Squeaky toy mice etc…can all be fabulous, especially useful for cheeky inside cats.

And if things aren’t going well, in certain situations veterinary drugs can help.

Unfortunately, because there has been so much misuse of medical drugs in the human world (aka Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston), many people are very anti the use of anything for their pet.

This is a real shame as many animals can be helped with the careful use of drugs such as Xanax, Prozac and Clomicalm.

A great example of the good that can come from using drugs is shown in the case of ‘George’, a six-year-old, ginger, shorthaired cat with a history of being very nervous….which then developed into his spraying both inside and outside.

As you can imagine, this was not a great scenario for the family, or ‘George’.

It was causing real problems. After a veterinary consultation in April this year, to make sure there were no obvious physical reasons for his spraying, George’s owners decided to try Prozac to reduce his anxiety, and stop the spraying resulting from his distress.

The results have been fantastic for all concerned.

George is now quite chilled for the first time in his life and doesn’t spray anymore. And the family have a great feline friend who is a joy to have around.

In George’s case, it is likely will have to stay on the anti-anxiety drug for the rest of his life as it is impossible to determine the likely multiple causes of his anxiety.

In other cases, behavioural modifications can be instigated which eventually allow the drugs to be stopped.

The main point is that there are no quick, one-size-fits-all fixes for behavioural problems in most cases.

BUT, as with George, we can often work together to improve the quality of life of your pet, and a return to an enjoyable family life for you too.

The fact that we could take a photo of a relaxed, happy George proves it.

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