Undesirable Behavior in Cats

Should punishment be used in cats?

Punishment is the application of a stimulus that decreases the chance that a behavior will be repeated. It must coincide with the undesirable behavior, and must be unpleasant enough to deter the cat from repeating that behavior.

“…punishment the least desirable tool for changing behavior.”

Inappropriately applied punishment can cause fear, anxiety and owner avoidance, making punishment the least desirable tool for changing behavior (also see our handout on ‘Behavior Modification – Why Punishment Should be Avoided’). Keep in mind that you are punishing the behavior, not the cat. Punishment should never be considered unless the pet has the means to satisfy its nature and its needs. For example, the scratching cat should be provided with an appropriate scratching post before any attempts to punish undesirable scratching are initiated.

When is a physical reprimand acceptable?

Physical reprimands are one of the most frequently utilized and least successful forms of punishment. Hitting a cat can lead to hand-shyness, fear of the owner, and potential injury for both the owner and the cat. Depending on the problem, the cat will likely continue to perform the undesirable behavior in your absence since it learns that it can perform the behavior without punishment when you are out of sight. Physical punishment is generally ineffective, potentially dangerous and likely to have a negative effect between the owner and pet.

What can I do to stop my cat from engaging in rough play with me?

A light tap on the nose or top of the head has been advocated for owner directed behaviors such as play biting, hissing and swatting. However, even these mild forms of punishment can lead to retaliation, fear and an increased level of aggression in some cats, and cannot therefore be universally recommended. At the very least they tend to make the cat wary of your approach. Instead, whenever the cat begins to swat or play attack, immediately stop the play by walking away or by using some non-physical form of punishment such as a water sprayer, can of compressed air, cap gun, hand held alarm or perhaps a loud hiss. Although ideally you should just walk away from these forms of playful behavior to ensure that they are not reinforced, many cats will continue to pursue as part of the play and chase. Before any punishment is considered, the cat should be given ample opportunities for social play. Toys that can be chased, swatted, and batted should be provided (See our handouts on ‘Play and Play Toys in Cats’ and ‘Aggression in Cats – Play Predation’). Species appropriate punishment such as “hissing” or the use of a punishment devices such as a water sprayer, can of compressed air, or hand held alarm are better than using any physical techniques since they are less likely to lead to fear and retaliation. There may be times when gently shaking or lifting the cat by the scruff of the neck can be used to successfully calm, distract or restrain a cat but only to disrupt undesirable behavior and not as a punishment. Remember that giving any form of attention to a cat that is swatting, or attacking in play, might, at the other extreme be misconstrued as play, and further reinforce the behavior.

How can I discourage my cat from other behaviors?

“The key to successfully stopping undesirable behavior is to associate an unpleasant consequence with the undesirable behavior.”

The key to successfully stopping undesirable behavior is to associate an unpleasant consequence with the undesirable behavior. However, unless the owner remains out of sight while administering punishment the cat may learn to cease the behavior only when you are present. Punishing the cat remotely, while you remain out of sight, is an effective means of deterring undesirable behavior. However, it takes preparation, time and forethought. Another effective means of punishment is to booby-trap an area, so that the cat learns to “stay away”. Keep in mind that the cat must also have appropriate outlets for play, exercise, scratching, climbing, jumping and chasing.

How does remote punishment work?

For remote techniques to be successful there are two key elements. First, you must monitor the cat while out of sight so that you know when the problem begins. The second element is that the punishment must be delivered while the inappropriate behavior is occurring (and while you remain out of sight).

Keep a close watch on the problem area while hidden around a corner, in a nearby closet, or behind a piece of furniture. Or, monitor your cat using an intercom, a motion detector or even just a set of bells that might “jingle” when disturbed.

As soon as the cat enters the area or begins to perform the undesirable behavior (climb, scratch), use a long-range water pistol, noise device or remote control device (see below) to chase the cat away.

If the cat cannot determine where the noise or water is coming from, it should quickly learn to stay away from the area whether the owner is present or not.

A commercial remote device is the citronella spray collar. It can be attached to a harness on the cat or just placed in the area and activated remotely as the cat enters the area. Another option is to set up a remote control switch near the problem area and have a device such as a water pik, alarm, or hair dryer plugged in.

When the owner is not around to supervise and monitor, booby-trap devices can be utilized or the cat should be confined to an area of the home that has been cat-proofed and supplied with a litter box, bedding area, toys for play and areas for scratching or climbing.

How can I booby-trap the environment to punish the pet?

Punishing the behavior remotely, with you out of sight, is impractical if the cat cannot be prevented from performing the undesirable behavior when you are not there to supervise and monitor. Booby-traps are a way of teaching the pet to avoid the area or the behavior itself. One of the simplest ways to discourage a cat from entering an area where an undesirable behavior is likely to be performed (scratching, eliminating) is to make the area less appealing (or downright unpleasant) for scratching or eliminating. If the cat is scratching furniture, a large piece of material draped over the furniture may do the trick, since the cat won’t be able to get its claws into the loose fabric. A small pyramid of empty tin cans or plastic containers could also be balanced on the arm of a chair so that it topples onto the cat when scratching begins. A piece of plastic carpet runner with the “nubs” facing up can be placed over a scratched piece of furniture to reduce its appeal; a few strips of double-sided sticky tape would send most cats looking for another place to scratch (hopefully to the scratching post!). Mousetrap trainers, shock mats, or motion detector alarms are also very effective at keeping cats away from problem areas. There are devices that are triggered by motion that will spray the cat with compressed air and startle them so they leave the area (See our handout on ‘Scratching Behavior in Cats’). For outdoor use, there are motion detector sprinklers, a motion activated compressed air spray, and a variety of sonic and ultrasonic motion detectors (See ‘Behavior Management Products’ handout for more details).

“To be effective, the first exposure to a product must be as repulsive as is humanely possible, so that the cat is immediately repelled whenever it smells or tastes that product again.”

Most of these same booby traps would also be effective for destructive behaviors such as chewing and sucking. Taste deterrents might also be helpful, provided they are unpleasant enough to deter the behavior. Products such as bitter apple, bitter lime or Tabasco sauce are often recommended, but many cats quickly learn to accept the taste. A little water mixed with cayenne pepper, oil of eucalyptus, any non-toxic mentholated product, or one of the commercial anti-chew sprays often work. To be effective, the first exposure to a product must be as repulsive as is humanely possible, so that the cat is immediately repelled whenever it smells or tastes that product again. Therefore a spray of the bitter spray into the cat’s mouth might be most effective to reduce the chances of the cat returning to the area. Never leave any objects or areas untreated until the cat learns to leave the object or area alone.

Perhaps most important, punishment whether interactive or remote should never be a substitute for good supervision and the opportunity to engage in the proper behavior. This is very important with kittens that are learning what is acceptable in a new home. Prevention, by confining the cat to a cat-proofed area with toys, scratching post, litter and water, is often the best solution when the owners are not available to supervise.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Scratching Behavior in Cats

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Although scratching does serve to shorten and condition the claws, other important reasons why cats scratch are to mark their territory (both visibly and with the scent of the foot pads) and to stretch. Some cats may increase their territorial marking (e.g. scratching, urine marking) in situations of anxiety or conflict. Cats may also threaten or play with a swipe of their paws.

“Scratching does serve to shorten and condition the claws…”

For cats that live primarily outdoors, scratching is seldom a problem for the owners. Scratching is usually directed at prominent objects such as tree trunks or fence posts. Play swatting with other cats seldom leads to injuries because cats have a fairly thick skin and coat for protection. When play does get a little rough, most cats are pretty good at sorting things out between themselves. Occasionally, rough play or territorial fighting does lead to injuries or abscesses that would require veterinary attention.

Cats that live primarily or exclusively indoors may run into disfavor with their owners when they begin to scratch furniture, walls, or doors, or when they use their claws to climb up, or hang from the drapes. Claws can also cause injuries to people when the cats are overly playful or don’t like a particular type of handling or restraint. With a good understanding of cat behavior and a little bit of effort, it should be possible to prevent or avoid most clawing problems, even for those cats that live exclusively indoors.

How can I stop my cat from scratching?

It is impractical and unfair to expect cats to stop scratching entirely. Cats that go outside may be content to do all their scratching outdoors, but the urge may still arise when the cat comes back indoors. Cats that spend most of their time indoors will need outlets for their scratching and marking behaviors. If you don’t provide appropriate outlets for your cat, don’t be surprised if you come home to find objects strewn all over the floor, scratches on your furniture, and your cat playfully climbing or dangling from your drapes. While it may not be possible to stop a cat from scratching, it should be possible to direct the scratching, climbing and play to appropriate areas indoors. Building or designing a user friendly scratching post, providing a regular daily routine of social play, object play and exercise, and keeping the cat away from potential problem areas will usually be adequate to deal with most scratching problems. Further details on providing an enriched indoor environment and encouraging appropriate play are discussed in separate handouts.

How do I design a scratching area for my cat?

Since cats use their scratching posts for marking and stretching as well as sharpening their claws, posts should be set up in prominent areas, with at least one close to the cat’s sleeping quarters. The post should be tall enough for the cat to scratch while standing on hind legs with the forelegs extended, and sturdy enough so that it does not topple when scratched. Some cats prefer a scratching post with a corner so that two sides can be scratched at once while other cats may prefer a horizontal scratching post. Special consideration should be given to the surface texture of the post. Commercial posts are often covered with tightly woven material for durability, but many cats prefer a loosely woven material where the claws can hook and tear during scratching. Remember that scratching is also a marking behavior and cats want to leave a visual mark.

“Be certain to use a material that appeals to your cat.”

Carpet may be an acceptable covering but it should be combed first to make certain that there are no tight loops. Some cats prefer sisal, a piece of material from an old chair, or even bare wood for scratching. Be certain to use a material that appeals to your cat. If the cat has consistently scratched a piece of funiture that is now going to be replaced, salvaging some of the material and covering a scratching post with that material may help attract the cat to the scratching post.

Another alternative is a food-dispensing cat-scratching device called “Pavlov’s Cat”.

How can I get my cat to use its post?

Placement is important when trying to entice your cat to use a scratching post. Because scratching is also a marking behavior, most cats prefer to use a post that is placed in a prominent location. It may be necessary to place the post in the center of a room or near furniture that the cat was trying to scratch until the cat reliably uses it and then move it to a less obtrusive location.

Even after you move it, the post may need to remain in the room where the cat spends a great deal of time and wishes to leave its “message”. A good way to get the cat to approach and use the post is to turn the scratching area into an interesting and desirable play center. Perches to climb on, space to climb into, and toys mounted on ropes or springs are highly appealing to most cats. Placing a few play toys, cardboard boxes, catnip treats, or even the food bowl in the area should help to keep the cat occupied. Sometimes rubbing the post with tuna oil will increase its attractiveness. Food rewards can also be given if the owner observes the cat scratching at its post. Products have been designed to reward the cat automatically by dispensing food rewards each time the cat scratches. It may also be helpful to take the cat to the post, gently rub its paws along the post in a scratching motion, and give it a food reward. This technique should not be attempted, however, if it causes any fear or anxiety. For some cats, multiple posts in several locations will be necessary.

What can I do if the cat continues to scratch my furniture?

Despite the best of plans and the finest of scratching posts, some cats may continue to scratch or climb in inappropriate areas. In these cases, the first step is to determine whether the scratching is excessive and whether anxiety is a factor. Scratching of new areas and sites may be related to anxiety and marking behavior. Sometimes, the scratching problem is related to a change in the household such as the introduction of a new cat, moving or a change in the family’s schedule. Other signs of anxiety such as a change in appetite, a change in social behavior (e.g. more aggressive or more withdrawn), or the onset of urine marking may also occur. When, where and how often the cat scratches might be a clue as to the possible cause. If the cat is not satisfied to scratch in one or two selected areas, then look at the environmental and household factors that might lead to anxiety. If the cat scratches new objects or furniture in the home, this might be a marking behavior. Cats that scratch in a particular room or on a particular person’s possessions may have a relationship problem that might need to be resolved. Providing the cat with a more enriched daily routine, including multiple feeding sessions, additional opportunities for social / predatory play, and new objects to manipulate and explore, may help to better settle the cat at times when it might otherwise be scratching. In addition to determining the cause and trying to resolve the underlying anxiety, the feline facial pheromone FeliwayTM may be useful to reduce marking when sprayed on the inappropriate locations (but should not be used to deter normal marking of preferred scratching sites).

If the scratching is not anxiety related, but the targets of scratching are undesirable for the owner, a little time, effort, and ingenuity might be necessary. The first thing to consider is partial confinement or “cat-proofing” your home when you are not around to supervise. If the problem occurs in a few rooms, consider making them out of bounds by closing off a few doors or by using child-proofing techniques such as child locks or barricades. The cat may even have to be kept in a single room that has been effectively cat proofed whenever the owner cannot supervise. Of course the cat’s scratching post, play center, toys, and litter box should be located in this cat-proof room.

If cat-proofing is not possible or the cat continues to use one or two pieces of furniture, you might want to consider moving the furniture, or placing a scratching post directly in front of the furniture that is being scratched. Take a good look at the surfaces of the scratched furniture and ensure that the surface of the post is covered with a material similar to those for which the cat has shown a preference. Some scratching posts are even designed to be wall mounted or hung on doors. Placing additional scratching posts in strategic areas may also be helpful for some cats. Another option is to try using a feline facial scent on scratched surfaces. This may help to reduce scratching at these sites but the cat will still need alternate areas to scratch. Keeping the cat’s nails properly trimmed or using commercially available plastic nail covers are also useful techniques for some owners.

How do I punish my cat for inappropriate scratching?

All forms of physical punishment should be avoided since they can cause fear or aggression toward the owners, and at best, the cat will only learn to stop the scratching while the owner is around. Indirect, non-physical forms of punishment may be useful if the owner can remain out of sight while administering the punishment. In this way the cat may learn that scratching is unpleasant even when the owner is not present. Water rifles, ultrasonic or audible alarms, or remote controlled devices are sometimes useful.

“All forms of physical punishment should be avoided since they can cause fear or aggression…”

Generally, the best deterrents are those that train the pet not to scratch, even in the owner’s absence. If the surface or area can be made less appealing or unpleasant, the cat will likely seek out alternative areas or target for scratching, (hopefully acceptable scratching posts). The simplest approach is to cover the scratched surface with a less appealing material (plastic, a loosely draped piece of material, aluminum foil, or double-sided tape). Another effective deterrent is to booby trap problem areas so that either scratching or approaching the area is unpleasant for the cat (e.g. motion detector air spray, motion detector alarm, odor repellents or a stack of plastic cups that is set to topple when the cat scratches). (See our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’). Of course, neither remote punishment nor booby traps will successfully deter inappropriate scratching unless the cat has an alternative scratching area that is comfortable, appealing, well located, and free of all deterrents.

My cat is using her claws to injure family members, what should I do?

The first thing you need to do is determine why the cat feels the need to use her claws. If the cat uses its claws on the owners in play or when climbing onto or jumping off of the owner’s lap, try keeping the nails trimmed, or redirecting the cat to acceptable play behavior. If the cat is anxious, fearful or frustrated, then she may be using her claws to escape. In these cases, it is important to identify and prevent situations in which the cat might use its claws. A more in-depth behavioral assessment is needed to determine why your cat is clawing at family members.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Cat Behavior Problems House Soiling – Synopsis

House soiling or feline inappropriate elimination, is the most common behavioral complaint of cat owners. The problem may be urine and/or stool deposited outside of the litter box, or marking behaviors. When cats urinate on vertical surfaces, it is known as spraying or marking. Usually the cat backs up to a vertical surface, raises its tail, which may quiver, treads with its back feet, and directs a stream of urine backwards (see (42) Marking and Spraying Behavior and (40) House Soiling).

The first step is to rule out medical causes. Any disease of the urinary tract that causes increased discomfort, volume or frequency of urination can cause house soiling with urine. Similarly any disease affecting the intestinal tract that causes increased discomfort, volume or frequency could lead to house soiling with stools.

Medical problems in which the pet cannot control its urine or stool (incontinence), and conditions that cause pain or stiffness so that the cat cannot comfortably enter and use the litter box should also be ruled out. Once a cat has persistently eliminated outside of the litter box for medical reasons, the cat may learn to eliminate in the wrong location. Therefore, even if the medical problem has been resolved, behavioral therapy may be needed to re-establish regular use of the box.

“Therefore, even if the medical problem has been resolved, behavioral therapy may be needed to reestablish regular use of the box.”

The first step is to rule out medical causes. Any disease of the urinary tract that causes increased discomfort, volume or frequency of urination can cause house soiling with urine. Similarly any disease affecting the intestinal tract that causes increased discomfort, volume or frequency could lead to house soiling with stools. Medical problems in which the pet cannot control its urine or stool (incontinence), and conditions that cause pain or stiffness so that the cat cannot comfortably enter and use the litter box should also be ruled out. Once a cat has persistently eliminated outside of the litter box for medical reasons, the cat may learn to eliminate in the wrong location. Therefore, even if the medical problem has been resolved, behavioral therapy may be needed to re-establish regular use of the box.

What could the problem be if it is not medical?

Diagnostic possibilities for elimination problems in cats include (a) aversions or avoidance of the litter, litter box, or location aversions and/or (b) preferences for other substrates or locations. On occasion, some cats will eliminate on horizontal surfaces when they are frustrated, stressed, or anxious. In these cases, the diagnostic and treatment suggestions in (42) Marking and Spraying Behavior should be reviewed.

How do we determine the behavioral cause?

This requires a close look at the history including information about the home environment, litter box type and litter used, litter box maintenance (cleaning) and placement, and the onset, frequency, duration and progression of problem elimination behaviors. Other factors to note include other pets in the household and how they get along, any household changes and any patterns to the elimination such as the time, days of the week, or seasonal variations. The number and placement of litter boxes is extremely important in multi-cat households. Other information required is whether the cat is using the litter box at all, and the location, types of surfaces soiled and whether it is urine, stools or both.

What can I try first?

The first step is to identify the nature of the problem. There are several steps you can take until you establish why your cat is soiling outside the box:

Start with determining if you made a change to the litter or litter area around the time the problem started and switch back to the preferred litter or site.

Make sure the litter box is scooped daily and clean the box itself regularly. The litter should also be changed often since it absorbs odors and moisture. Most cats prefer a freshly cleaned box, but some will not enter a new or recently cleaned box.

If you have more than one cat at home add additional litter boxes in additional locations. A general rule is to increase litter boxes to equal the cats’ number plus one (i.e., if you have two cats, have three litter boxes).

If your cat has a preference for one location or substrate (i.e., living room carpet) you can try blocking its access to this area or use a product to make the area less appealing.

Change the function of the area to a feeding, sleeping, or play area. You can place food and water in the area, your cat bed, or place furniture in the area. Using the feline appeasing pheromone (Feliway®) may help.

Make sure the litter box is placed in an easily accessible area throughout the day. Your cat should be able to enter the box without disturbances (i.e., furnace turning on, another cat or the dog preventing access.

Litter aversion and substrate preference

“Test your cat’s preference for different litter types by providing two or more identical boxes with different litter inside.”

Test your cat’s preference for different litter types by providing two or more identical boxes with different litter inside (e.g., clumping vs. nonclumping). Once you clearly identify which litter your cat prefers compare this type with other types. Do so several times until you establish your cat’s preference. You can also try the substrate that is found where your cat inappropriately soils (i.e., piece of carpet, towel, floor tiles, soil, or even an empty box). Once the preferred litter type has been determined, begin to alter the depth in one of the boxes. For defecation deeper litter is often preferred. If you use an odor neutralizer you can then compare one litter with the product and one without.

Box preference

Provide your cat with two or more different boxes such as covered vs. none covered box, small vs. large box, regular vs. automatic cleaning box, etc. Based on the litter and substrate test above use the favored litter in both boxes. Make sure the boxes are consistently well cleaned.

Location preference

Place several litter boxes in different locations in your house and establish your cat’s preference. You can also place a box where your cat commonly soils inappropriately. If your cat uses this box regularly, you can try to move it several inches every few days, gradually moving it to an acceptable location.

I’ve made the litter more appealing and the house-soiling areas less appealing but the cat continues to eliminate in inappropriate areas. What next?

“First determine whether the pet ever soils when someone is supervising or at home.”

First determine whether the pet ever soils when someone is supervising or at home. If not, the cat can be allowed free when someone is watching and any use of the litter can be immediately reinforced with favored treats (or even clicker training). A body harness can be used to ensure that the cat does not.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Cat Behavior Problems – Vocalization

Why does my cat persistently cry?

Most owner complaints about feline vocalization are either to do with the intensity and persistence of the vocalization, or the fact that it occurs at night or at other times when family members or neighbors are trying to sleep. Attention getting behaviors, sexual (estrus or male) behaviors, play behavior, medical problems, discomfort, and aggressive displays are the most common reasons for feline vocalization. Of course, since some cats are quite active at night, it is not surprising that many owners are concerned about their cat’s nighttime vocalization and activity. Some breeds such as the Siamese are much more likely to be vocal than others.

What can be done to prevent undesirable vocalization?

For excessive nighttime vocalization, providing a stimulating daytime routine with regular offerings of food, social play, and exploratory toys may help to program and change the schedule of the cat so that it sleeps through the night (see Nocturnal Activity). The goal is to engage the cat in desirable activities where the cat is not vocalizing such as playing with toys, working for food, and engaging in exploration, climbing, or perching (see Trimming Nails and Brushing Teeth, Enrichment for Indoor Cats, and Play and Play Toys). Rewards of all types (play, affection, treats) should only be given when your cat’s behavior is acceptable (quiet and not vocal); in fact, clicker training might be an excellent way to effectively reward quiet behaviors (see Clicker and Target Training). Never reward vocalization by providing food, attention, or play when the cat vocalizes, since it is likely to reinforce the behavior and cause it to continue. Mild outbursts of vocalization can either be ignored or interrupted with remote punishment techniques such as a water gun, compressed air, loud verbal no, or alarm device, but never with physical punishment.

How can excessive vocalization problems be treated?

Understanding the problem

The cause of the cat’s vocalization, those stimuli that are associated with the onset of the behavior as well as all factors that might be reinforcing the behavior, must be understood. For some cats, especially those that are middle aged or elderly, veterinary examination is recommended to rule out potential medical causes of vocalization such as pain, endocrine dysfunction and hypertension. Some older cats may begin to vocalize as their senses or cognitive function begins to decline (senility) (see Senior Pet Behavior Problems).

“Some older cats may begin to vocalize.”

Modify the environment

If the cat can be denied exposure to the stimuli for the vocalization (e.g., the sight or sounds of other cats), or prevented from performing the behavior (e.g., keeping the cat out of the owner’s bedroom at night), the problem can often be successfully resolved. Alternately, providing activities that will keep the cat quietly occupied through the night (timed feeders, manipulation feeding toys) might also be acceptable

Modify the behavior

The most important aspect of a correction program is to give the pet a sufficiently enriching program and enough activities to keep it occupied and content. Develop a daily routine that provides a variety of social play and object exploration activities. Focus on when and where the pet is most likely to vocalize and schedule playtime or a stimulating activity (such as a feeding toy or a paper bag to explore) before the problems arise. Then, when the vocalizing begins, determine what may be rewarding the behavior.

“Many owners inadvertently encourage the behavior by giving the cat something it values during vocalization.”

Many owners inadvertently encourage the behavior by giving the cat something it values during vocalization, perhaps in an attempt to quiet it down. Attention, affection, play, a treat, and allowing the cat access to a desirable area (outdoors, indoors) are all forms of reinforcement. Reinforcement of even a very few of the vocalization outbursts perpetuates the behavior. Although removal of reinforcement (known as extinction) ultimately reduces or eliminates excessive vocalization, the behavior may at first become more intense as the cat attempts to get the reward. This is known as an “extinction burst.”

Punishment

Physical punishment should never be utilized in cats. Not only is it ineffective at correcting most behavior problems, it can also lead to fear and anxiety of the owner, people in general or being handled and petted. Although ignoring the vocalization, so that the cat receives no reward for the behavior, is the best solution, in the long run it can be difficult to do. Punishment devices can be used to interrupt the behavior immediately and effectively. A spray of water, an ultrasonic device, an audible alarm or a quick puff of compressed air (from a computer or camera lens cleaner) is often effective at stopping the behavior, and at the same time ensuring that the cat has received no form of reward. Punishment that is not immediately effective should be discontinued. With some ingenuity, remote control devices can be used to activate punishment devices and remove the owner as the source of the punishment. In some cases, a remote citronella collar may successfully deter the behavior.

“With some ingenuity, remote control devices can be used to activate punishment devices.”

As soon as the undesirable behavior ceases, reinforce the cat and give it an activity to keep it occupied so that it does not resume the vocalization.

What can be done for cats that vocalize through the night?

For those cats that vocalize through the night, it is first necessary to try and reschedule the cat so that it stays awake and active throughout the daytime and evening. Food, play, affection and attention should be provided during the morning and evening hours, and as many activities as possible must be provided for the cat during the day (cat feeders, activity centers, or perhaps even another pet). Drug therapy may also be useful for a few nights to help get the cat to adapt to the new schedule. Older cats with sensory dysfunction and geriatric cognitive decline may begin to wake more through the night and vocalize more frequently. These cases will need to be dealt with individually depending on the cat’s physical health.

“Under no situation should the owner go to the cat if it vocalizes.”

If the cat continues to remain awake through the night, there are two options that might be considered. The first is to lock the cat out of the bedroom by either shutting the bedroom door, or confining it to a room or crate with bedding and a litter box for elimination. If the cat is ignored it may learn to sleep through the night. Alternatively, the cat may learn to keep itself occupied if there are sufficient toys, activities or another cat to play with. Under no situation should the owner go to the cat if it vocalizes (even to try and quiet it down), as this will reward the behavior. If the cat must be allowed access to the bedroom, inattention and punishment devices such as an ultrasonic alarm, compressed air, or a water sprayer, can be used to decrease or eliminate the cat’s desire to vocalize.

Will neutering help?

Some forms of vocalization are associated with communication, especially with regard to estrus cycles and mating, in adult male and female cats that are not yet neutered. Cats in estrus are particularly vocal at “calling.” Neutering should help to reduce vocalization in these cats.

‘Neutered animals still may wish to go outside and roam. If there are other cats in the neighborhood that frequent the home territory, this may encourage your cat to vocalize. Blocking visual access and providing “white noise” may help if you are unable to get the outdoor cats to leave your property.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Cat Behavior Problems – Scratching Behavior and Declawing

What is Declawing?

Declawing is the surgical removal of the toenail and the portion of bone from which it grows. In most cases, only the front paws are declawed. Depending on how the procedure is performed, it might best be referred to as an amputation of the small bone on the end of each toe. As a surgical procedure, it requires a general anesthesia and appropriate and sufficient pain management throughout the recovery procedure. It generally takes a few days to a few weeks for healing to be completed, after which time the cat can walk, climb, knead and scratch comfortably. Anecdotally, adult cats and those that are heavier may take longer to heal and adapt. Your cat may be hospitalized for several days after the surgery, and pain management medications may be dispensed for the first few days that your cat returns home. In many cases, a special, dust-free kitty litter may be recommended to prevent contamination of the surgery sites until the paws are entirely healed.

Should I get my indoor cat declawed?

Declawing is a surgical procedure that may be painful and may affect the cat’s mobility during the postoperative recovery period; it should not be considered a routine or preventive surgery. Declawing a cat merely because it will be staying indoors or because it might one day cause damage with its claws is difficult, if not impossible, to justify. To decrease the need for multiple anesthetics, declawing is often performed at the time of surgical sterilization. Many cats are spayed or neutered at approximately 6 months of age. This gives you time to teach your cat where to scratch and how to use its claws appropriately. If you add in some partial confinement or a few strategically placed booby traps, most cats can be prevented from doing damage while learning what is acceptable to you. Regular nail trimming and commercially available plastic nail caps can also be useful to minimize damage to furniture.

In some cases, scratching is a form of marking behavior that might be due to anxiety. In these cases, declawing might stop the scratching and damage, but does not address the problem. Finding out what’s wrong and resolving the anxiety might eliminate the scratching behavior.

In most cases understanding why a cat scratches and developing strategies for encouraging appropriate scratching and resolving inappropriate scratching will effectively remove any need to declaw. Note that in some jurisdictions and a number of countries declawing is considered inhumane and has been banned.

My cat is causing unacceptable damage. In this situation, is it acceptable to declaw?

Declawing is a drastic but permanent solution to most scratching problems. As mentioned already, it may be avoidable with some attention to training and prevention. However, declawing is a quick and effective means of eliminating scratching problems when other options have been exhausted. In some homes, the issue comes down to the options of removing the cat from the home or having it declawed. In one study, it was estimated that as many as 50% of cat owners who declawed their cats would not have otherwise kept their cat.

“As many as 50% of cat owners who declawed their cats would not have otherwise kept their cat.”

This might be the case where the cat continues to damage the furniture, or where the cat causes injuries to people during play or handling. Even the slightest scratch can have serious consequences when a member of the household suffers from an immunosuppressive disease or a disease such as diabetes. It might also be argued that the short-term pain and discomfort of declawing (which can be minimized with appropriate attention to pain medications) may be preferable to a life of constant confinement and excessive (and unsuccessful) attempts at punishment. Although it has been estimated that approximately 25% of cats are declawed in North America, declawing is considered immoral or even illegal in some jurisdictions and in some countries.

What is the effect of declawing on the cat?

There are many myths and anecdotal reports about the dire behavioral and surgical complications of declawing. In the past few years, a number of behaviorists, pet psychologists and epidemiologists have studied the effects of declawing on the cat, the owner, and the cat-owner relationship. At least 10 scientific studies have examined the consequences of declawing on the pet and on the pet-owner relationship. These studies show that declawing does not alter the cat’s behavior. In fact, cats may continue to scratch furniture after declawing, but cause no damage. There is no increase in behavior problems. Declawed cats are not at greater risk of getting bitten or injured in catfights. Owners of declawed cats report a higher number of good behaviors than the owners of clawed cats.

“At least 10 scientific studies have examined the consequences of declawing.”

There is some speculation about whether declawed cats might be more prone to either biting or house soiling. In a study of biting frequency and intensity, declawed cats did not bite any more often or any more seriously than a control group of nondeclawed cats.

With respect to house soiling, some cats might find it uncomfortable to use their litter for the first few days after declawing, and may develop a litter avoidance problem during this time. Close attention to litter maintenance, the use of non-adherent litters and early attention to any emerging problems are generally successful at preventing litter box aversion. House soiling problems appear to be equally common in cats that have been declawed and those that have not.

The only consistently recognized effect of declawing is a few days of post-surgical discomfort. Therefore be certain to discuss pain management options with your veterinarian prior to surgery.

When owners of declawed cats are asked to assess the effects of declawing on the cat-owner relationship, declawing always met or surpassed their expectations, and more than 70% indicated an improvement in their relationship with their cat. Declawing allows people to keep their cat and stop household damage.

What is a tendonectomy, and how does it compare to declawing?

Another surgery to reduce household damage associated with scratching is a “digital flexor tendonectomy.” In this procedure, the flexor tendon on each claw is cut so that the claw cannot be used for scratching. When compared to declawing, tendonectomy surgery resulted in less pain during the first two days post-operatively. However, after the tendonectomy you will need to regularly trim your cat’s nails, as they will continue to grow. Since the surgery alters the anatomy and prevents the claws from retracting normally, your cat may accidentally get its claws caught in the furniture. If it is difficult for you to properly maintain your cat’s nails, declawing may be the preferable option for your cat, as long as appropriate pain management is provided.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Cat Behavior Problems – Nocturnal Activity

Why does my cat seem to be most active at nights?

Some cats are active at night, or are awake and “raring to go” very early in the morning. Since many owners are out at work or school during the day, the cat may spend the daytime hours in rest and relaxation, especially if it is the only pet in the household. The cat’s day then begins when the owner arrives home to provide the cat with feeding, play and social interaction. This is also the most natural time for cats to be active since they normally are most active in hunting and exploration at dusk and dawn (this is known as crepuscular behavior). Typical complaints are cats that nibble or even attack the owner’s ears or toes in bed, walking across the sleeping owners, nighttime vocalization, or explosive, uncontrollable play sessions across the furniture and/or owners, during the night or early morning. Some owners inadvertently reward the behavior by giving the cat a little food, affection, or attention to try and calm the cat.

How can I stop my cat from keeping me up at night?

You must learn to schedule and encourage play and feeding during the daytime and evening hours, so that the cat’s schedule more closely matches that of your household. Adjusting the timing of feeding or the type of food may help to alter the cat’s sleep schedule. For example, eating a few hours earlier or later, may help to alter the cats schedule just enough that it sleeps through the night.

“Encourage play and feeding during the daytime and evening hours, so that the cat’s schedule more closely matches that of your household.”

Keeping the cat awake and active by playing, feeding and interacting with the cat throughout the afternoon and evening can resolve the problem in some cats. Since nighttime activity may be a form of social play and attention seeking behavior, the first consideration is whether the cat is getting sufficient amounts of social interaction and social play during the daytime. This may be particularly problematic for an only cat in the household and an owner who works all day. Offering several social play sessions with chase toys, as well as some reward based training exercises might help to fill the cat’s needs. In addition, the cats daytime hours can be further enriched by offering fewer but more frequent meals, perhaps providing some of the meals in foraging andplay toys, as well as providing new objects of exploration each day.Catnaps in the evening should be discouraged.

If the cat continues to disturb you during the night, confining your cat out of the bedroom, as far out of earshot as possible, and providing it with a comfortable sleeping area and litter may do the trick. Do not provide food through the night as this encourages the cat to stay awake. However, providing a litter box, a play area for climbing, scratching and perching, and a few favorite play toys may help your cat to feel more comfortable in the area. If the cat sleeps through most of the night but wakes very early for food, placing a self-feeder in the room (one timed to deliver food at 5 am) may do the “trick.”

How should I respond to my cat’s vocalization and nighttime activity?

Cats that are vocal during nighttime hours must be ignored. Going to the cat or giving attention in any way will only serve to reward the demanding behavior. Cats that scratch or bat at the bedroom door can be kept away by the use of an upside down carpet runner (one that has plastic projections that are intended to grip the carpet), an electronic pet mat or perhaps a motion detector (although it might disturb the owner). Motion-detector spray devices are also available. If the cat is overly vocal, lock it away in as sound proof an area as possible such as a washroom, or in a cat carrier in a distant bedroom. Nested corrugated cardboard boxes around the cage may act as baffles to help further reduce the noise.

“Cats that are vocal during nighttime hours must be ignored.”

What if it is necessary to have my cat sleep in the bedroom?

If you decide that your cat would do best if allowed to stay in the bedroom, you must remember that any attention whatsoever will further reinforce the behavior. React to the demanding cat with inattention. However, if the cat persists or the behavior escalates to a point where it cannot be ignored, punishment may be effective.

“Punishment is generally contraindicated in cats”

It should first be noted that punishment is generally contraindicated in cats because punishment that is too mild is likely to be ineffective and may actually serve to provide enough play or attention to reward the behavior. On the other hand, punishment that is too harsh could lead to an increase in anxiety, fear of the owner and even aggression. If punishment is to be used, devices that quickly deter the cat without the need for owner contact, such as a water sprayer, air horn, ultrasonic device, can of compressed air or a spray of citronella are usually the safest and most effective.

Is there medication that might help?

If all else fails and the cat does not sleep through the night with behavioral techniques alone, your veterinarian may be able to provide some medication to help your cat fall asleep for the first few nights. There may be natural sleep aids such as melatonin or valerian or drugs such as antihistamines and benzodiazepines that can help to induce sleep. However, some cats will develop a tolerance of these medications, and after a few nights of success, if you have not established a new routine, then the drugs may no longer be effective.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Cat Behavior Problems – Chewing and Sucking

During exploration and play, kittens (and some adult cats) will chew on a variety of objects. Not only can this lead to damage or destruction of the owner’s possessions, but also some chewing can be dangerous to the cat. Because some forms of excessive licking, chewing, and sucking can be caused by health problems such as gastrointestinal disorders, all possible medical causes should first be ruled out (see Diagnosing a Behavior Problem – Is It Medical or Behavioral?).

What can I do to stop my cat from chewing?

The first step is to ensure that the cat has appropriate opportunities and outlets for play, scratching, climbing, chewing and exploration (see Play and Investigative Behaviors). Next, potential targets of the cat’s chewing should be kept out of reach. When this is not possible the cat may need to be confined to a cat proof room, or the problem areas may have to be boobytrapped (see Behavior Management Products and Prevention and Punishment of Undesirable Behavior). Strings, thread, electric cords, plastic bags, twist ties, pins, and needles are just a few of the objects that cats may chew or swallow, resulting in intestinal obstructions that may require surgical removal.

“The first step is to ensure that the cat has appropriate opportunities and outlets for play, scratching,climbing, chewing, and exploration.”

Another common target of feline chewing is houseplants. Ideally, keep the cat away from household plants whenever you cannot supervise your cat. When you are unable to supervise your cat, booby traps may be an effective deterrent. Placing rocks or gravel, mothballs, or a maze of wooden skewers in the soil can help to keep the cat from climbing on, digging in, or eliminating in the soil. Some cats may be interested in chewing on dog toys or biscuits. For other cats, feeding a dry cat food, especially a dental formula, or dental treats, may provide increased oral stimulation, better satisfy the need to chew, and promote slower eating. In other cats, the desire for chewing plant material may best be satisfied by providing some safe greens (e.g., lettuce, parsley) in the food, or by planting a small kitty herb garden for chewing.

What can I do if my cat sucks on wool and fabrics?

Sucking on wool or other fabrics may be seen occasionally in any cat, but is most commonly a problem of Burmese and Siamese cats, or Oriental mixed breeds. Although some cats do grow out of the problem within a few years, the problem may remain for life (see Compulsive Disorders). The first step in correction is to provide alternative objects for chewing and sucking. Some cats may be interested in one of the many chew toys or chew treats designed primarily for dogs. Feeding dry and high fiber foods or dental foods and dental treats may also be helpful. Sometimes, making food more difficult to obtain by placing large rocks in the food dish encourages the cat to “forage.” Food-dispensing toys designed for cats are also available and provide a foraging alternative. The next step is to provide the cat with plenty of play periods with the owners, or even with a playmate to keep it exercised and occupied. This may require the owner to not only schedule playtime, but also to control the cat’s toys, changing and rotating them every 1 to 3 days to stimulate usage. It is possible to teach cats to perform tricks, and some cats will respond well to training sessions with their owner. Finally, cat proofing techniques or booby traps will likely be required whenever the owner cannot supervise.

Some cats are so persistent in their desire to suck wool that more drastic measures may be required. Covering chew toys with a small amount of a product containing lanolin (such as hand cream) is occasionally helpful. In some cases, it may be necessary to leave the cat with one or two woolen objects to suck on, provided no significant amounts of wool are swallowed. If these techniques do not help, then it may be necessary to use a cat cage with perches when the cat is unsupervised to avoid continued ingestion of material.

“The same drugs used for human compulsive disorders may be useful for some of these cases.”

Some cats have such a strong and seemingly uncontrollable desire to suck that the condition has been compared to compulsive disorders in people. The same drugs used for human compulsive disorders may be useful for some of these cases. If your cat persistently sucks, chews or ingests material, a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or an applied animal behaviorist may be necessary to control the behavior (see (38) Compulsive Disorders).

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2013 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Polycythemia Vera

What is polycythemia vera, and what are the symptoms?

Polycythemia vera, or “true” polycythemia, is a rare disease of dogs and cats in which too many red blood cells (RBCs) are produced by the bone marrow. This is the opposite of anemia, in which there are too few red blood cells.

“Animals with thicker blood from polycythemia feel tired, sluggish, and weak and may even have seizures.”

Blood is composed of cells and fluid. The cell component is a mixture of red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection, and platelets to form clots and prevent bleeding. The fluid component of blood is called plasma and consists of proteins, antibodies, electrolytes, and water. Plasma carries blood cells and nutrients to the tissues of the body. Normally, the RBCs account for 35% to 55% of the blood volume and the plasma accounts for 45% to 65%. In these proportions, blood flows easily through arteries, veins, and capillaries to all parts of the body.

Dogs and cats with polycythemia vera may have a red blood cell population of 65% to 75% of the total blood volume. When this happens, blood becomes very thick and has difficulty moving through the small blood vessels in the body. Slower blood flow means fewer nutrients and less oxygen delivered to the tissues. The muscles and brain require the most nutrients and oxygen, so animals with thicker blood from polycythemia feel tired, sluggish, and weak and may even have seizures. If left untreated, polycythemia vera affects the heart and causes heart failure. This disease develops slowly over many months, so the symptoms (clinical signs) appear gradually and may be easy to overlook in the early stages.

What causes polycythemia vera?

There are several secondary causes of polycythemia, including congenital heart disease, tumors in the kidney, and certain types of bone marrow cancer. Following a diagnosis of polycythemia, these secondary causes are explored and, if discovered, are treated. If, however, secondary causes of polycythemia are absent, then the diagnosis is polycythemia vera (“true” or primary polycythemia). The actual cause of this disease remains a mystery.

Is there a treatment for polycythemia vera?

Treatment is aimed at reducing red blood cell numbers. This thins the blood, making it easier for nutrients and oxygen to be transported throughout the body. Better oxygenation and tissue nutrition helps reduce the tiredness and weakness often associated with the disease. Two treatment techniques are used, generally in conjunction with one another, to reduce the number of circulating RBCs in an animal with polycythemia: (1) removing some of the blood and (2) administering medication to slow down production of RBCs in the bone marrow.

“Treatment is aimed at reducing red blood cell numbers to make it easier for nutrients and oxygen to be transported throughout the body.”

Because the medication used to reduce red blood cell production in the bone marrow takes time to produce an effect, the fastest way to reduce the number of circulating RBCs is to physically remove them through a procedure called phlebotomy. Phlebotomy involves placement of an intravenous (IV) catheter through which a calculated volume of blood is removed; this procedure is similar to that used when people donate blood. The body quickly replaces the fluid removed with the red blood cells, usually within 6 hours. Occasionally, this procedure needs to be repeated until the desired level of RBCs is reached. Phlebotomy requires the pet to be admitted to the hospital for a number of hours.

“The body quickly replaces the fluid removed with the red blood cells, usually within 6 hours.”

What is the medication used to treat polycythemia vera?

Hydroxyurea is the medication used in conjunction with phlebotomy to treat polycythemia vera. It works by slowing the bone marrow’s production of red blood cells. Because RBCs live an average of 120 days, it takes time to see the effects of decreased production, which is why phlebotomy is also part of the treatment. Once phlebotomy has been performed and the pet is feeling better, hydroxyurea is started. The medication is initially given at a fairly high dose; after 1 week, the dose is reduced by half.

A complete blood count (CBC) is evaluated weekly for the first month, then monthly for 3 months, then every 3 months to check the bone marrow’s response to therapy. Over time, as the red blood cell numbers decrease, the amount of hydroxyurea and the frequency of administration are reduced. Some pets can be weaned off the medication after 1 to 2 years, although other pets need to stay on the medication for life.

“Some pets can be weaned off hydroxyurea after 1 to 2 years; others need to stay on the medication for life.”

Are there side effects associated with hydroxyurea?

Hydroxyurea can cause vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Rarely, it can cause sores in the mouth, brittle toenails, and a predisposition to urinary tract infection. In addition to suppressing red blood cell production, hydroxyurea can occasionally suppress white blood cell production, which is why this medication’s effect on the body needs to be closely monitored.

Hydroxyurea should be handled with care. To avoid contact with your skin, consider wearing disposable gloves when administering the medication, and always thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: David Kerr, DVM. Edited by Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, DAAPM.

© Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Travel – Airplane Travel with your Cat

I’m planning an airplane trip and would like to take my cat with me. What arrangements are necessary?

Cats travel on planes every day. Although some highly publicized mishaps occur on rare occasions, most can be avoided if some simple precautions are followed.

It is crucial to contact your airline well in advance of your trip and discuss travelling requirements for your cat to avoid a last minute crisis.

“Take direct flights whenever possible, and try to avoid connections and layovers.”

Take direct flights whenever possible, and try to avoid connections and layovers. Sometimes, this is easier to achieve if the travel occurs during the week. Avoid the busiest travel times so airline personnel will have extra time to handle your cat. The well-being of your cat could be a source of concern if the baggage connection between flights should be missed.

Determine whether the airline has requirements for “acclimation.” In the event that you are unable to book a direct flight, your cat and carrier may be left outside the plane for a period of time. To avoid liability on their part, some airlines require a letter from your veterinarian stating that your pet is acclimated to a minimum or maximum temperature. It is important to find out if the airline requires that your veterinarian give a precise acclimation temperature, such as 20°F (-7°C) for a specified period of time.

Verify the airline’s policy regarding baggage liability, especially with respect to pets. In some cases, your general baggage liability coverage will include your pet. Check your ticket for liability limits or, better yet, speak directly with the airline. If you are sending an economically valuable pet to another person via air, you may need additional liability insurance.

“Some airlines will allow one pet in coach and one in first class, with some provisions.”

Some airlines will allow one pet in coach and one in first class, with some provisions. You will need to book in advance with the airline if you plan to travel with your cat in the cabin. Your cat must remain within its carrier during the flight, and must not disturb your fellow passengers. There may be an additional cost for this privilege. Before purchasing it, check the cage dimensions and airline requirements so that there won’t be a problem stowing the carrier beneath the seat. Some airlines require that the pet be able to stand upright in the carrier. A collapsible fabric carrier is suitable for this situation.

Are there any special veterinary considerations?

Have your cat examined by your veterinarian in advance of the trip, especially if it has been more than a few months since the last health check. This is especially important for senior cats (over seven years of age). Travel by plane can pose a risk for cats with heart or kidney disease, or with some other pre-existing medical problems. Some shortfaced breeds such as Himalayans, Persians and Exotic Shorthairs can run into respiratory difficulty if they are in a confined carrier or are placed in the cargo compartment of the airplane, especially in hot or humid weather. If any of these concerns apply to your cat, be sure to discuss the advisability of airplane travel with your veterinarian.

Purchase any pet supplies that you might need in advance of your trip. These include heartworm and flea preventive or any prescription medications that your cat may require. If your cat is on a specific diet, especially a therapeutic diet, you need to ensure that it will be available at your destination or take along a sufficient supply.

“If you are travelling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official.”

Be sure that you have written proof of current vaccinations, especially rabies vaccination, and a valid health certificate. These documents cannot be obtained “after the fact.” You must be able to present them on demand. If you are travelling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official. The specific requirements vary by country, either within North America or to other continents. It is your responsibility to ensure that you meet all criteria for your chosen destination. Some countries have specific requirements for blood testing or anti-parasitic treatment that must be performed within a certain time interval prior to the trip. The specific requirements can be obtained from the consulate’s office, or by searching government websites for the country of interest. It may take several days to weeks to get test results or obtain the appropriate paperwork, so be sure to research your destination’s requirements prior to travel. You should also inquire about any quarantine requirements for your cat, especially if you are travelling to an island country.

How should I prepare my cat for the flight?

Your cat should always travel with an updated identification tag attached to a collar or harness. The tag should contain contact information in case the cat escapes from its carrier. You should include a leash for secure restraint in case the cat needs to be taken out of the carrier. Make sure that the carrier has been clearly marked with some form of permanent identification, including your name, telephone number, flight schedule, destination, and the telephone numbers of someone at the point of destination. For additional security, all pets that travel should be microchipped prior to travel (and you should take a copy of the number with you for reference). For further information, see our handout “Microchipping”.

“Do not tranquilize or sedate your cat unless you have discussed this with your veterinarian.”

Do not tranquilize or sedate your cat unless you have discussed this with your veterinarian. Cats do not tolerate some medicines well and giving over-the-counter or prescription pharmaceuticals can be dangerous, even fatal. Altitude and pressurized cabins can create additional stress on your cat. Your veterinarian will advise you on safe medications if you feel that your cat needs to be sedated for travel. In order to determine the most appropriate dose, your veterinarian may recommend giving a “test dose” of the medication to determine its effect in advance of the trip.

Avoid feeding your cat within 4-6 hours of the flight. You should provide fresh water until boarding time. Take along a supply of drinking water to provide your cat with fresh water during layovers and waits. Give your cat fresh water as soon as you arrive at your destination. If you have a senior cat with marginal kidney function, it is important that it not be deprived of water, even for a few hours. There are collapsible water containers that should fit in your cat’s carrier and can be left filled during the flight. Discuss this with your veterinarian. In these cases, try to book a direct flight with no layovers.

What should I look for in a travel cat carrier?

Your cat’s travel carrier will be its “home” for much of your trip. It’s important to choose the right carrier for its comfort. Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • The carrier should provide sufficient room for the cat to stand up and turn around easily, but not so large that the cat can be tossed about inside during turbulence. Remember that airlines have special requirements for onboard carriers so be sure to check with them before your destination.
  • The walls of the carrier should be strong enough to prevent the sides from being crushed. The flooring of the cage should not allow urine to leak through the bottom. You can place a disposable absorbent puppy-training pad or an underpad designed for bedridden people with bladder control problems in the bottom of the carrier.
  • The carrier should have good ventilation. Mesh panels and numerous holes or slits are characteristics of a good quality carrier.
  • The carrier must have sturdy handles for baggage personnel to use.
  • The carrier should have a water tray that is accessible from the outside so that water can be added when needed.
  • Try to familiarize your cat with the travel carrier before you leave for your trip. Give your cat access to the carrier both with the door open and closed. This will help eliminate some of your cat’s stress during the trip.

Pet stores, breeders, and kennels usually sell carriers that meet these requirements. Some airlines recommend specific carriers that they prefer to use. Check with the airline to see if they have other requirements or recommendations.

What about a carry-on kennel?

Cats may be allowed in the passenger cabin as long as the carrier will fit under the seat. Soft, airline-approved, carry-on kennels, sometimes called Sherpa bags, are available. Be sure to check with your airline regarding their specific carry-on policies and requirements. There may be an extra charge to take your cat in the passenger cabin.

What arrangements should I make at the destination site?

  • Be sure that your hotel or destination will allow cats. There are many internet sites and travel guidebooks with this type of information. Do not try to “sneak” a pet into a hotel. This will not only result in your being given an financial penalty or asked to leave, but also gives a negative impression of pet owners in general. If we want more hotels to accept our pets as guests, we must obey the rules and be sure that we are exemplary guests.
  • Bring your own litter pan and food and water bowls for the hotel room.

“Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door so that housekeeping will not inadvertently let your cat escape.”

  • Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door so that housekeeping will not inadvertently let your cat escape. Plan to have your room cleaned only when you are present and your cat is safely in its carrier.
  • It is probably best to put the cat in the carrier or confined inside a closed bathroom whenever you plan to leave the room.
  • Should your cat get lost, contact the local animal control officer immediately. If your cat is microchipped, advise them of its number so that you can be contacted directly.

Remember, advance planning is vital to making the trip an enjoyable experience for both you and your cat. By applying a few common sense rules, you can keep your traveling cat safe and sound.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Toxoplasma

General Information

ƒ Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoal parasite capable of infecting any warm-blooded animal, including humans. ƒ

  • Cats are the only species which can shed one of the infective stages of the parasite (oocysts) in their stool. In all other animals (and humans) the parasite forms microscopic cysts in the tissues which can only infect another animal or person if the tissue (such as muscle) is ingested. ƒ Cats are the only species which can shed one of the infective stages of the parasite (oocysts) in their stool. In all other animals (and humans) the parasite forms microscopic cysts in the tissues which can only infect another animal or person if the tissue (such as muscle) is ingested
  • In all species, Toxoplasma infection usually causes no illness, but sometimes it causes mild signs like fever and swollen lymph nodes. In immunocompromised (e.g. HIV/AIDS, cancer or transplant patients) or pregnant animals and people, the infection may be more serious.
  • There are three important ways of transmitting Toxoplasma:
  • Eating undercooked meat containing Toxoplasma tissue cysts. 
  • Ingesting Toxoplasma oocysts from cat feces, either directly or in contaminated food, water or soil. 
  • If a woman or female animal is infected for the first time while pregnant, the parasite may also infect the fetus.
  • The risk of contracting Toxoplasma infection (toxoplasmosis) from cleaning the litter box of a house cat is very small, especially if a few simple precautions such as appropriate hand washing are observed.

How Common is Toxoplasma?

  • ƒ Toxoplasma is one of the most widespread zoonotic infections in the world. ƒ
  • It has been estimated that 225 000 cases of clinical toxoplasmosis (i.e. with signs of sickness) occur annually in the USA, and that 50% of these are due to transmission from contaminated food or infected meat. ƒ
  • In North America, about 1/4 of the population has probably been exposed to Toxoplasma. Most people don’t even know they’ve been exposed and will never be sick from the disease. Cultural habits affecting how food is handled and cooked, how cats are handled, and personal hygiene can significantly affect the risk of exposure. ƒ
  • In North America, about 1/4 of the population has probably been exposed to Toxoplasma. Most people don’t even know they’ve been exposed and will never be sick from the disease. Cultural habits affecting how food is handled and cooked, how cats are handled, and personal hygiene can significantly affect the risk of exposure. ƒ
  • Between 40 to 400 children born in Canada each year are infected with Between 40 to 400 children born in Canada each year are infected with Toxoplasma Toxoplasma before birth. before birth. ƒ
  • The prevalence of oocyst shedding in cats is very low (0-1%), even though at least 15-40% of cats have been infected with Toxoplasma at some point. This means very few cats at any one time are actually able to pass their infection on to people. Infection is more common in pets that go outside, hunt, or are fed raw meat.

How Is Toxoplasma Spread?

  • The risk of transmission of Toxoplasma from a household cat is small, and can be easily controlled by good hygiene when handling litter and stool. ƒ
  • Contamination of water sources and soil with the stool of wild or domestic cats is more difficult to control, and can lead to infection due to ingestion of oocysts on unwashed, uncooked vegetables or in contaminated water. Insects may also transfer infectious Toxoplasma oocysts from cat feces to food, water, or utensils. ƒ
  • Contact with contaminated soil or sand, such as in a garden or a sandbox, may also be associated with Toxoplasma infection. ƒ
  • Eating undercooked meat, especially from free-range pigs, sheep, goats or wild game, is one of the most common ways of contracting Toxoplasma.

What Does Toxoplasma Do?

  • ƒ If a person or another animal (other than a cat) eats Toxoplasma oocysts or tissue cysts, the parasite takes the form of tachyzoites. Tachyzoites can travel through the tissues anywhere in the body, multiplying as they go. Eventually the tachyzoites slow down and stop multiplying, and form cysts within the remains of the last cell they invaded, often a muscle cell. The cysts persist for the life of the person or animal, and usually don’t cause any problems. However, if the body’s immune system is weakened, the organisms in the cysts may reactivate and start multiplying and spreading again. Usually the damage done by the spreading tachyzoites doesn’t cause any problems, but if they get out of control the effects can be much worse. The organs most commonly damaged are the lungs, liver, brain and eyes, but any organ can be affected.
  • If a cat eats either oocysts or tissue cysts, the parasite does two things – some of the organisms multiply in the intestine to form more oocysts, which are passed in the cat’s stool. This process only happens in cats. The parasite can also form tachyzoites, which migrate through the cat’s body to form more tissue cysts, just like in people and other animals.

Important Facts About Toxoplasma Infection

  • ƒ Once an animal or a person is infected with Toxoplasma, they are usually immune to reinfection for the rest of their lives, unless their immune system becomes weakened. ƒ
  • Once a cat is infected with Toxoplasma, it will usually start shedding oocysts in its stool in 3-10 days and then stop in less than 3 weeks. Although it is possible for the cat to shed oocysts again if it is re-exposed to the parasite, this is thought to be uncommon and it will shed far fewer oocysts than the first time. ƒ
  • If a previously infected cat develops a disease or is given drugs that inhibit the immune system, it may start to shed oocysts in its stool again. However, overall very few cats are shedding oocysts at any one time. ƒ
  • Pregnant women (and animals) will only pass the infection on to their babies if they are infected for the first time while they are pregnant. If they were infected before they became pregnant, their immune system will protect their babies (and themselves) if they are exposed to the parasite again.

How Do I Know If My Pet Or I Have Toxoplasma?

  • ƒ Usually you don’t ever know that you or your pet has been infected by Toxoplasma. ƒ
  • Occasionally the infection (in a person or a pet) may cause mild fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. ƒ
  • If the immune system cannot control the spread of the tachyzoites, they can damage the liver, lungs, eyes, brain, muscle and other organs. The person or animal will be very sick, but could have many different signs, which may appear slowly or very suddenly. Your doctor or your pet’s veterinarian will have to run several tests to determine if the sickness is being caused by Toxoplasma and not by another infection or disease. ƒ
  • Worldwide, infection of the brain (Toxoplasma encephalitis) develops at some time in approximately 40% of people who have HIV/AIDS. This condition is very hard to treat in these patients, so they are often treated preventatively with antibiotics. ƒ
  • If an animal is infected when it is pregnant, its young may be born dead or very sick, and die soon after. ƒ
  • If a woman is infected when she is pregnant, the baby may die before or soon after being born, develop mental problems, or the baby may be normal and not show any signs of infection until the person is an adult. Eye problems are very common in these delayed-onset cases.

Should I Test My Cat For Toxoplasma?

There is very little value in testing your cat for Toxoplasma, because:

  • Although 15-40% of cats have been exposed to Toxoplasma, less than 1% of all cats are shedding oocysts at any one time, and even some of these may be shedding so few oocysts that they can’t be detected in the stool. Young cats and kittens are more likely to be shedding than older cats which are already immune, but they may still be hard to catch during their short shedding period.
  • If a blood test shows your cat has been exposed to Toxoplasma (i.e. seropositive), it is probably already immune and no longer shedding oocysts. However, it could potentially shed small numbers of oocysts if it is re-exposed. ƒ
  • If a blood test shows your cat has not been exposed to Toxoplasma (i.e. seronegative), then it is also likely not shedding oocysts. However, if it is exposed, it will likely shed a large number of oocysts for a short time.

Try to minimize your cat’s exposure to Toxoplasma by keeping it indoors and not feeding it raw meat.

Should I Be Tested For Toxoplasma?

Testing healthy pregnant women for Toxoplasma is not generally recommended in the USA and Canada, as it is in some European countries such as Belgium and France, because the risk of exposure to Toxoplasma is comparatively low. If you are concerned, or if you have traveled to another country where Toxoplasma is more common, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be tested.

How Is Toxoplasmosis Treated?

  • ƒToxoplasmosis only needs to be treated (with antibiotics) if the person or animal is pregnant or really sick. However, if a person or animal develops a disease or needs to be treated with drugs that will severely inhibit the immune system, they may need to be treated preventatively, because if Toxoplasma is already present in their body in cysts, it may be reactivated and cause a lot of damage to their vital organs. ƒ
  • In the exceptional case that a cat is found to be shedding oocysts, treatment is not necessary. However, if the cat lives with a high-risk individual, it should be removed from the premises temporarily and may be treated to help it stop shedding oocysts sooner. There is no vaccine available for Toxoplasma in cats, dogs or people.

How Do I Stop My Cat From Giving Me Toxoplasma?

Given the emotional benefits associated with owning a cat, and the minimal risk of contracting Toxoplasma infection from a house cat if proper hygiene is practiced, pregnant or immunocompromised people do NOT need to give up their cats, but they should avoid contact with cat litter and litter boxes if at all possible, by having someone else clean their cat’s litter box for them.

  • Because cats are usually meticulous groomers, it is unlikely that oocysts will be found on their fur, so regular handling of your cat is not a significant risk. ƒ
  • Oocysts in cat stool actually take 24 hours or more to develop into their infective state. Removing the stool from your cat’s litter box every day therefore reduces exposure to infective Toxoplasma oocysts. ƒ
  • Once the oocysts become infective, they are very resistant to disinfectants, but can still be killed by soaking and cleaning the litter box and other objects in scalding or boiling water. ƒ
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with cat stool, cat litter or the cat litter box. ƒ
  • Keeping your cat indoors and controlling rodents in the house will decrease the risk of your cat being exposed to Toxoplasma through hunting rodents and birds, and therefore also the risk that it will shed oocysts in its stool. Don’t feed your cat raw or undercooked meat for the same reason.

What Else Can I Do To Prevent Toxoplasmosis?

HEALTHY ADULTS / OLDER CHILDREN

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^  RISK = 2

Pregnant women and immuncompromised individuals must be particularly diligent in following all of the guidelines outlined above, because infection with Toxoplasma is often much more serious in these individuals.

  • ƒThey should avoid contact with cat stool, litter, garden soil and sand that may be contaminated with cat stool. ƒ
  • If it cannot be avoided, they should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately when the task is finished. ƒ
  • They should also avoid contact with kittens and young cats, as these animals are more likely to shed oocysts in their stool.

For these groups, the zoonotic risk posed by Toxoplasma in household cats is:

PREGNANT / IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PERSONS

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 4

Additional Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Toxoplasmosis homepage: http://www.cdc.gov/toxoplasmosis/