In This Issue
Feline Enrichment is Essential for Health and WellbeingFeline Enrichment is Essential for Health and Wellbeing | Does previous use affect litter box appeal in multi-cat households? | News from the San Diego Genomics Conference | Caution Regarding Essential Oil Use | Feeding Behavior in Cats – A New Guideline
Feline Enrichment is Essential for Health and Wellbeing
When we bring a cat home we know we must provide the basic necessities for their welfare that include food, water, litter box, health care, and a safe environment. However, a safe environment doesn't mean a sterile environment devoid of mental and physical stimulation. Feline enrichment is more than a trendy sound bite, it's a crucial element to feline health and wellbeing.
The basis of feline enrichment is first understanding normal, innate feline behavior and then accommodating for it in the given environment. Enrichment activities decrease anxiety, stress, and the risk of adverse behaviors and stress-related illnesses that include feline lower urinary tract disease, obesity, and upper respiratory infection. This vital element is overlooked until a 'problem' behavior arises. The behavior isn't the problem. The behavior is a symptom of a problem the cat is experiencing which, to some degree, indicates the cat's welfare needs aren't being met.
Feline enrichment may sound complicated, expensive and time-consuming. The good news for you and your cat is that it's easy, budget-friendly, and there are many expert resources chock-full of enrichment ideas. Best of all, you'll be building a stronger bond with your cat who will be happier and healthier.
Fear Free Happy Homes course, "Activities and Enrichment 101," breaks down pet enrichment into three, bite-sized facets: physical, exploratory and social, which prevent cats from becoming "apathetic and unhappy." No one wants an apathetic, unhappy cat!
Physical. Simply put, exercise. Most cats need about 30 minutes of exercise a day broken down into two or three 10-15 minute sessions. Make the sessions fun--think playtime. Cats have different preferences for activities and toys. A cat's "prey preference" determines the most favorable toys. Some cats love the thrill of the chase, fetch, or toys that mimic small prey. Other cats fancy feather wand toys. Simple items such as paper bags or boxes offer lots of fun; toss in a toy or sprinkle in catnip for extra zip. For cats who like the challenge of laser toys, it's important to give a real toy to "catch" after playtime to avoid the frustration of not catching the light beam.
Notice your cat's preference of favorite games and toys. Cats like novelty so provide a variety and rotate toys to maintain your cat's interest. Store stringy interactive toys safely out of reach when not in play to prevent accidents.
Exploratory. Cats are problem solvers by trade and need appropriate outlets for those specialized skills. They need positive opportunities to explore and interact with their environment by engaging all of the senses--sight, smell, taste, touch, hear.
One of the most important aspects of feline natural instincts involves food, beyond species-specific nutrition. Cats are hunters who need predatory activities to stalk, chase and pounce. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has released a consensus statement "Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing" that details feeding strategies that promote natural feline behaviors which in turn reduce the risk of "stress-related and /or over-eating issues" in pet cats.
The AAFP Consensus Statement details include feeding small, frequent meals by using puzzle feeders, encourage foraging by placing food in different locations (think of this as a food scavenger hunt for your cat), and setting up a variety of food and water stations throughout your home. This aspect is especially important in multi-cat households since cats prefer to eat alone, and safely, in a quiet location.
Puzzle feeders and treat dispensers come in all sizes and shapes from simple to complex and from expensive to homemade. Store-bought feeders should be sturdy and easy to clean. DIY examples include egg cartons, plastic bottles and cardboard tube creations from simple to elaborate. These can be tossed and replaced as needed.
My two cats' favorite hunting game is Kibble Toss. I throw food, they chase it. They run, chase, jump in the air, burn calories and eat slower. I can monitor the food intake. Win-win!
Another aspect of exploratory enrichment is climbing opportunities. Most houses and apartments don't have enough feline real estate. The addition of sturdy, multiple level cat trees and elevated shelves and perches (think vertical space) expand your cat's territory and create safe havens, especially important in multi-cat households.
Social. Cats have a skewed reputation as aloof, solitary animals who do well on their own. They may be solitary hunters who prefer a table for one but meaningful socialization with their human is an essential enrichment element. Like humans, cats have social interaction preferences. Some cats adore the comfort of your warm lap while others prefer to sit quietly nearby perhaps with an extended paw touching you.
Don't try to force cuddle a cat, that's like wrestling barbed wire. This kind of unwanted attention may elevate the cat's stress and anxiety levels and, if the cat feels threatened, may respond with a sharp swipe. Respect, and accept, your cat's individual show of affection.
Teaching your cat a few basic tricks such as Sit, Ring a Bell and High Five, is a wonderful means of social interaction. Not only is it mentally stimulating for your cat's little gray cells, it adds another layer to the bond between you and your cat.
Some cats delight in a good grooming session. Brushing not only reduces the amount of shed fur, it conditions the skin and coat, and gives you the chance to identify parasites, bumps, lumps or skin conditions. Looking good, feeling good.
Multi-cat households. Stress in multi-cat households is a common occurrence often due to a lack of necessary provisions. To help reduce stress it's necessary to provide duplicates of all pertinent resources which includes, but not limited to, food, water, litter boxes, safe spaces, toys, vertical territory, and human socialization. Think of this as an expansion of the "1+1" litter box rule, 1 for each cat plus one for the house. Each cat will find their preferred spot.
When strategizing about space for several cats, keep in mind that cats prefer a social distance of 1 to 3 meters both vertically and horizontally. Be sure to locate food and water dishes out of the sight line of each other. Some cats may never become best friends but they can live together without stressful conflict with thoughtful placement of necessary resources.
Cats are highly intelligent, active, naturally curious beings we bring home as cherished pets. An enriched environment focused around the tenets of physical, exploratory and social activities allows cats to express their natural behaviors, the opportunity to create their own positive experiences in an enclosed space, and live a higher quality of life.
C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN. "Wellbeing and Health of Indoor Cats." From Portland Veterinary Medical Association Association 2015 Symposium.
Sadek, T., Hamper, B., Horwitz, D., Rodan, I., Rowe, E., & Sundahl, E. (2018). Feline feeding programs: Addressing behavioral needs to improve feline health and wellbeing. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 20(11), 1049–1055.
Fear Free Happy Homes course "Activities and Enrichment 101"
Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed. is an award-winning writer and author of “Cats for the GENIUS” who writes about pet care, health and behavior, and cats in the arts.
Her work has been honored with prestigious awards including the Fear-Free Pets Award sponsored by Fear Free, LLC; Good News for Pets Human-Animal Bond award; Purina One Health award; several Cat Writers' Association MUSE Medallions, including one for her book, "Cats for the GENIUS," and numerous Certificates of Excellence annually since 2011.
Ramona is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association and in 2016 she was invited to become a member of The American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat-Friendly Practice Advisory Council. She is also Fear Free certified.
She finds inspiration in her two feline muses, Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby adopted from the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. You can read more about Ramona and her work at www.RamonaMarek.com.
Does previous use affect litter box appeal in multi-cat households?
It is commonly assumed that cats actively avoid eliminated materials (especially in multi-cat homes), suggesting regular litter box cleaning as the best defense against out-of-box elimination. The relationship between previous use and litter box appeal to familiar subsequent users is currently unknown. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between previous litter box use and the identity of the previous user, type of elimination, odor, and presence of physical/visual obstructions in a multi-cat household scenario. Cats preferred a clean litter box to a dirty one, but the identity of the previous user had no impact on preferences. While the presence of odor from urine and/or feces did not impact litter box preferences, the presence of odorless faux-urine and/or feces did – with the presence of faux-feces being preferred over faux-urine. Results suggest neither malodor nor chemical communication play a role in litter box preferences, and instead emphasize the importance of regular removal of physical/visual obstructions as the key factor in promoting proper litter box use.
News from the San Diego Genomics Conference
TICA and TICA's Bengal Cat breed sections were sponsors of the Feline and Canine Genomics Conference at the world's largest Genetic and Genomic Conference in San Diego last January.
TICA's sponsorship was placed in the budget and approved by the Board of Directors. The Bengal Cat breed section's sponsorship was made possible through the 2019 TICA Beautiful Bengal Cat Calendar contest. Anthony Hutcherson attended the conference to represent TICA and its Bengal breeders. Highlights from the Conference include:
Dr. Gregory S. Barsh of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology presented genetic information from the examination of 500 Bengal cats. The Asian leopard cat (ALC, Prionailurus bengalensis) and the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) share a last common ancestor 6 million years ago. Ancestry distribution and selection signatures in the Bengal breed were explored using reduced representation and whole genome sequencing. ALC ancestry in the Bengal breed is low (with a mean of only 3.3%). ALC alleles are nonrandomly distributed across the genome. The allele at the gene for Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP) responsible for a breed specific partial melanism known as Charcoal was identified. Large portions of the genome in the Bengal breed are associated with the domestic cat, rather than ALC, including the genetic basis for Glitter. A combination of genetic, transcriptomic, and histological approaches were used to characterize Charcoal, Glitter, and color pattern traits in the Bengal breed.
Dr. Emily Graff of Auburn University identified a homozygous mutation in PEA15 (phosphoprotein expressed in astrocytes-15) in domestic cats responsible for causing a severe malformation of the cerebrum portion of the brain, resulting in an approximately 50% decrease in overall brain weight and distinct disorganization of cerebral cortical layers and grey matter astrocytosis. When compared to unaffected cats, fibroblasts from affected cats had increased caspase-8 mediated apoptosis and increased proliferation. The findings suggest that the PEA15 protein plays an important role in neurodevelopment of cats.
Hasan Alhaddad of Kuwait University presented a study to identify bred specific genetic signatures in over 35 cat breeds using a comprehensive dataset of over 2000 cats and over 58K autosomal SNP markers. The findings also identified overall regions under selection in the domestic cat genome. Comparison to the signatures of selection of other domesticated animals, the selection of feline phenotypes largely controlled by single genes resulted in overall fewer candidate selective sweep regions for the different breeds.
Dr. Ellie Armstrong of Stanford University compared the genome of the African lion (Panthera leo) with those of other genomes within the genus Panthera in order to gain insight into the population history, genomic architecture, and genome evolution of one of the world's most iconic cats. The African lion has seen population declines of over 40% over the last two decades due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, disease, and illegal wildlife trade. A chromosome-level assembly of the lion was presented to demonstrate the practicality of using a combination of relatively low-cost technologies to produce high-quality genome assemblies.
Dr. Reuben M. Buckley, Dr. Wesley Warren, and Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri-Columbia presented the 99 Lives project, a research community-based effort, which aims to whole genome sequence a wide variety of cats with unique disease-relevant phenotypes. The advent of low-cost whole genome sequencing (WGS) has brought about significant progress for disease model discovery and characterization in companion animals. Over 200 individual cats have been sequenced on Illumina platforms with paired-end fragments at a minimum coverage of 20X. The project has begun to explore the role of structural variation in cat diseases, an approach commonly called “Precision Medicine”. Examples include the identification of strong candidate variants for Chediak-Higashi syndrome (LYST) and feline disproportionate dwarfism (linked to a complex rearrangement within a metabolic gene). The normal vs. tumor genome was compared for an oral carcinoma in order to begin to classify variants that may be associated with this form of cancer.
Abstracts and presentations may be viewed here
Caution Regarding Essential Oil Use
Essential oils can be toxic to cats due to their deficiency in a liver enzyme needed to process essential oils. Certain essential oils can be used safely, if the unique metabolism of cats is taken into consideration, according to holistic vet Dr. Melissa Shelton. Read more about the science behind cats and essential oils here.
Feeding Behavior in Cats – A New Guideline
A Consensus Statement, Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing, has been published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS). This Consensus Statement identifies normal feeding behaviors in cats.
In the past, food content has been given the majority of attention, while less attention has been given to meeting a cat’s natural feeding behaviors and environmental needs. The statement provides strategies to promote normal feline feeding behaviors, such as offering frequent small meals using appropriate puzzle feeders, forage feeding (putting food in different locations), and offering multiple food and water stations.
Veterinary professionals and clients need to work together to develop and implement a safe, effective feeding program that optimizes each cat's physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Read the complete statement here.