Using Fluorescence to Look For Dental Calculus in Dogs and Cats

Tartar in dogs and cats will fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light. Bacteria found in the mouth produce porphyrins that emit a pinkish orange glow. In fact, researchers have found feline, canine and human tartar as well as bacterial cultures will fluoresce as well. Why is this important? Because fluorescence can be used to look for tartar during dental cleanings. Below is a picture of a dog’s mouth under regular light. Note the tartar on the large canine tooth next to the gum line. Under room light, tartar appears tan. The next photo is taken while illuminated with ultraviolet light. The large clump of tartar is more prominent in this picture due to fluorescence.

 

After the dog’s teeth were ultrasonically scaled and polished, the ultraviolet light was used to look for any tartar that may have been missed. As you can see in the picture, this dog’s teeth look great. No tartar remained after the cleaning. Ultraviolet light is great for finding small amounts of tartar buried along the gum line that is difficult to see. In addition to the ultraviolet light, I run a probe along the gum line feeling for remnants of rough tartar on the smooth enamel surface of the teeth.

For more information on what is involved in a proper dental cleaning and why a complete oral examination and periodontal treatment cannot be done without anesthesia, please go to Arizona Skies Animal Hospital.

Source:

Dolowy, WC, Brandes ML, Gaouteman M, Parker JD, Lind J. ‘Fluorescence of dental clculus from cats, dogs, and humans and of bacteria culutred from dental calculus. J Vet Dent. 1995 Sep; 12(3): 105-9.

Feline Acne

Feline acne or chin acne is a common skin disease in cats. Unlike humans, feline acne occurs in cats of all ages. It is a disorder of the hair follicles that leads to secondary infections. Although many ideas have been proposed including allergies, poor grooming, increased sebum production and viral infections, none have been proven.

Chin acne starts with blackheads that form on the chin and below the lips. The blackheads or comedones do not seem to bother the cat. As the condition progresses, the comedones become infected causing pustules. The pustules rupture releasing pus. Eventually, the entire chin can become inflamed with chronic draining wounds. These cats will rub their chins on anything they can find. They are uncomfortable and painful.

This cat was under anesthesia, note the trach tube, for a dental cleaning and the extraction of two infected teeth. See the small black dots along his lips? These are comedones. There is one in the center of the picture that has become a pustule. The pustule was expressed releasing an amazing amount of pus in the second picture.

    

To confirm the diagnosis of feline acne, other common skin problems need to be ruled out including mites, fungal and bacterial infections. First, the skin is scraped with a scalpel blade and checked under the microscope for mites. Second, a few strands of hair are placed on a dermatophyte culture tube for fungus. Third, a slide is pressed against the chin, stained and then examined with the microscope for bacteria. If the infection is severe, a culture is performed to determine the antibiotic sensitivity of the bacteria.

Treatment of feline acne depends upon the severity of the disease and if there is a secondary infection present. In the early stages, topical therapy alone will usually control the disease. The chins are cleaned with wipes or shampoos that target seborrhea. Clipping the chin makes it a lot easier to treat the skin. If the condition is more severe, the cat may need something for the pain and inflammation as well as antibiotics.

Source:

-Shell, Linda G. Original author, Short, Jeanmarie Revision author. ‘Chin Acne’ Associate Database – VIN, last updated 3/19/2018.

 

Rattlesnake Bites in Dogs

Rattlesnakes are highly adaptable venomous snakes that live thoughout the continental United States. They are members of the Crotalidae family of venomous snakes which is a subfamily of vipers. Beside rattlesnakes, this group includes water moccasins and copperheads. This group does not include coral, mamba or sea snakes which are part of the Elapidae family.

Vipers inject venom into prey through two large fangs that protrude from the upper jaw. The venom is a mix of toxins and enzymes that will immobilize the prey and destroy the tissue in the area of the bite which allows the venom to spread more quickly. It includes myotoxins, cytotoxins, neurotoxins, cardiotoxins and hemorrhagic toxins. The venom from rattlesnakes is the most toxic followed by venom from water moccasins and copperheads in that order. The snake controls how much venom is injected per strike. Young snakes tend to deliver their entire load of venom whereas mature snakes may not inject any venom at all. This is referred to as a ‘dry bite’.

Swelling, bruising and pain are the most common clinical signs of a snake bite. Dogs are often bit on the head or legs which is a good thing because the venom spreads more slowly from these areas when compared to the torso. Swelling develops quickly and may cause airway obstruction. Snake bites are very painful! Dogs will yelp, moan and cry if the affected area is touched. The venom also interferes with the victim’s ability to clot their blood. Bleeding from the nose, mouth and eyes as well as bloody urine or feces are common. If this isn’t bad enough, some rattlesnake venom contains neurotoxins. Dogs may suffer a variety of neurologic signs from difficulty walking to paralysis, seizures to coma.

The goal of treatment is to neutralize the venom with antivenom as soon as possible. Best outcomes occur when the antivenom is given within 4 hours of the bite. The antivenom is made of antibodies, either the entire IgG or fragments of IgG, given through an intravenous catheter.  Again, time is of the essence.  In addition, patients need fluid therapy to treat shock and strong pain management. Some patients may need blood transfusions if bleeding is severe. Unfortunately, even with aggressive therapy, some dogs will not make it. Pictured below is a dog who was bitten on the left side of the lip by a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Severe swelling was noted on the lip and neck. This dog was treated with ‘Rattler’ Antivenom. This is the only antivenon that has antibodies against the Mohave rattlesnake venom. The swelling started to recede within ten minutes of starting treatment and she made a complete recovery!

Prevention of snake bites:

  1. Snake Avoidance Training – In areas with a lot of indigenous venomous snakes, many dog training centers offer snake avoidance training. The dog is fitted with an electric (shock) collar then exposed to the snake that is either in a cage or wearing a hood to prevent a strike. When the dog smells the snake, they receive a small shock and are taken away from the snake. A few minutes later, the dog is exposed to the snake again. Most dogs, will freeze instantly and then leave the area. If they continue toward the snake, a stronger shock is administered until the dog gives up. This type of training works well for confident dogs but I do not recommend it for timid dogs.
  2. Crotalus Atrox Vaccine (Rattlesnake Vaccine) – Red Rock Biologics produces a vaccine for rattlesnake bites. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this product. It is not a true vaccine that protects the pet from disease like the rabies vaccine. Instead, the crotalus atrox vaccine gives the dog more time to get treatment. The dog pictured above had the crotalus atrox vaccine a month and a half before the bite occurred. Most of the dogs I vaccinate live on ranches or go hiking and camping in remote areas where it may take hours to get treatment. Unfortunately, I have seen some bad reactions in my patients from this vaccine. Also, this vaccine stimulates antibodies against the Western Diamondback rattlesnake. Although the antibodies cross react with some other rattlesnakes but does not stimulate antibodies against the neurotoxin in Mohave rattlesnakes. Please discuss the pros and cons with a veterinarian before use.
  3. Prevent Snake Exposure – Snakes follow their noses to prey. Keep rats, mice and other rodents away from homes by making the environment less inviting. Keep citrus picked up and pet food indoors. Install snake fencing to keep reptiles out. Pictured below are some ideas to help you snake proof your yard. The first one if a gate showing the gate resting on pavers without a gap. The gate actually rubs the pavers when opened. The screen extends on both sides to cover the gaps that occur. The second image shows screen wired to a combination block and iron fence. The screen extends to the block without any gaps. The brush has been removed from both sides of the fence to make the area less hospitable for rodents and snakes. It also provides a defensible space in case of fire. Drains in the wall need to be covered with screen as well.

Source:

-Rothrock, Kari. ‘Snake Evenomation, Crotalid’. VIN Associate Database, last updated 10/26/2017.

 

 

Electronic Cigarette Toxicity in Dogs and Cats

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are toxic to dogs and cats. Beside the danger of the e-cig causing an obstruction or perforation, the liquid inside can be fatal. E-juice or e-liquid contains propylene glycol, nicotine, flavorings and either vegetable glycerin or polyethylene glycol. Propylene glycol and glycerin are usually not toxic at the low levels contained in e-cigs although it is unknown if chronic exposure may be hazardous. The bigger concern is the nicotine. As little as 20 mg can kill a small dog or cat. The concentration of nicotine contained in each e-cig varies dramatically between brands.

Clinical signs of nicotine toxicity depend upon how much nicotine the pet consumed. With ingestion of small amounts, the dogs and cats will experience vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, restlessness and panting. Ingestion of moderate amounts causes increased blood pressure and heart rate. The pets may also twitch or seizure. Pets who consumed large amounts often progress to paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms, coma and death. Nicotine is absorbed rapidly through the mucous membranes making it difficult to decontaminate the pet. Inducing vomiting to get rid of the nicotine or giving charcoal to absorb is often too late to help. Unfortunately, many dogs and cats will die even with aggressive therapy.

If you think your pet may have eaten or chewed on an e-cig or worse yet, a bottle of the e-juice, please seek emergency veterinary care immediately. Bring the e-cig and/or e-juice bottle as well. This will allow the veterinarian to determine the amount of nicotine ingested and the level of toxicity.

Source:

-Gwaltney-Brant, Sharon. ‘Electronic Cigarettes are Toxic to Pets’ Veterinary Partner, VIN.com.

What’s Missing From The Guaranteed Analysis on Pet Food Labels?

Finding the best food for pets has become a frustrating and time consuming process. With isles full of foods, people read the labels thinking that will help them identify the best one. They mistakenly think that dog and cat food can be compared by the Guaranteed Analysis (GA). Nothing could be further from the truth! Metabolizable Energy (ME) should be used instead.

The guaranteed analysis is simply a list of the percentage of fat, protein, fiber and moisture in the food. Specifically, the list includes the minimum crude protein, minimum crude fat, maximum crude fiber and maximum moisture. The term ‘crude’ means all the nutrients are included in the results whether they can be digested or not. For example, a label can say 25% minimum crude protein even though only half of it is digestible. The actual amount of useful protein is 12.5%. The opposite happens with crude fat because this value is listed as a minimum. The value on the guaranteed analysis is much lower than what is actually digested because many pet food companies add highly digestible fat to make it taste better. In my opinion, the term guaranteed analysis is more confusing than helpful. I would like to see it removed from labels and replaced by metabolizable energy.

Metabolizable Energy is a much better method for comparing diets because it only reports what is actually digested. The USDA defines it as follows: “The net energy in food or feed that is available to humans or animals by digestion and absorption, and measured as the difference between gross energy and the energy lost as being digested or indigestible.” That means that the energy lost in digesting the food through the urine, feces and combustible gases is not included. Metabolizable energy takes into account the quality of the ingredients which allows for an ‘apple to apple’ comparison. Guaranteed analysis does not.

Several years ago, I treated a miniature schnauzer for pancreatitis. This breed is prone to pancreatitis because they often have too much fat in their bloodstream. After treatment, I sent the dog home on a low fat (8% ME fat) canned diet. Three months later, the dog came back with pancreatitis again because the owner didn’t like the food I recommended. She went to a specialty pet food boutique and selected a food that was 8% minimum fat based on the guaranteed analysis. When I converted the guaranteed analysis of the food she bought to metabolizable energy, the food was actually 52% fat! The dog almost died because of the confusion caused the the label.

Guaranteed analysis results can be converted to metabolizable but the calculations are time consuming. Instead of doing it yourself, I recommend using the converter provided by BalanceIt.com. The nutrition service at the University of California-Davis, College of Veterinary Medicine created this helpful tool. Simply plug in the numbers from the guaranteed analysis listed on the label and the converter will do the rest.

 

 

Viral Papillomas (Warts) in Young Dogs

Viral papillomatosis (warts) is a fairly common condition in young dogs. Irregular circular growths appear in the mouth and around the eyes. The growths can be fairly smooth like a human wart or possess tenticle like projections that remind me of tall blades of grass. In dogs, papillomatosis is most often caused by canine papilloma virus-1. The virus infects young dogs because of their immature immune systems and adult dogs who are immunosupressed. In young dogs, usually less than two years of age, papillomas are most common inside the mouth and around the eyes. On rare occasions, the papillomas may be found on the eyelids, between the toes and on the eyeball. In adults, the papillomas can be found anywhere. The first picture is of viral papillomas in the mouth of a young dog. The second picture is a papilloma on the neck of a adult dog. The papilloma developed after the adult dog was treated with steroids and cyclosporine which both suppress the immune system.

                    

Canine papilloma virus-1 is transmitted by direct contact with an infective wart or by indirect contact by touching a contaminated surface. Most common sources are toys, bedding, collars, leashes, grooming tools and food bowls. The virus enters through damaged skin and papillomas appear within one to two months. People and other animals are not susceptible to this virus. CPV-1 only affects dogs.

Most young dogs will recover from this when their immune system matures and works to eradicate the virus. The papillomas will slowly degerate over about a two month period. Lesions that persist for longer periods of time should be biopsied to confirm the diagnosis of viral papillomatosis. Papillomas that interfere with eating or drinking may need removal. This is done with traditional surgery or cryotherapy. There is also a topical medication called imiquimod that can be applied to the papilloma or the drug azithromycin can be given orally for treatment. In really stubborn cases, papillomas can be removed and made into a vaccine to stimulate the dog’s immune system. This is a last resort because malignant tumors have occurred where the vaccine is injected.

In older dogs, the papillomas are surgically removed and sent in for analysis to confirm the diagnosis.

Source:

-Brooks, Wendy. ‘Viral Papillomas of Dogs’. VIN.com Published 09/10/2001, Reviewed and Revised 06/09/2017.

Frustration-Related Aggression in Cats

Frustration-related aggression is a form of aggression that occurs when a cat is blocked from getting what it wants. I diagnosed it for the first time in my own cat, Genevieve. I met this adorable little furball while working at a friend’s clinic.  A woman approached the counter carrying a cardboard box.  Inside lay a kitten missing one of its back legs.  She said she found it behind a dumpster and wanted it euthanized.  When I opened the box, I saw a newborn kitten covered in blood and dirt.  A bloody stump was all that was left of her right back leg. I hypothesized that the placenta had stuck to her back leg.  The queen probably chewed her foot off in an effort to clean up her baby.  I could not euthanize Genny just because she was missing a leg.

Genny grew into a beautiful but spoiled cat. When she wanted something like food or attention, she would not take ‘no’ for an answer. If she didn’t get her way, her tail would start to twitch, her eyes narrowed and she would nip. If that didn’t work, she resorted to a full on bite. Of course, she only did this behavior with the her human family members. My friends thought she was a wonderful cat.

Frustration-based aggression is a subject of debate among veterinary behaviorists. So far, no diagnostic criteria have been established for this type of aggression. Dr. Horwitz, a veterinary behaviorist, makes the following observations that fit what I see clinically. First, the cat seems to be trying to control the behavior of people to their own advantage. Second, the aggression is usually directed toward people the cat knows. And third, the behavior occurs when the cat is denied something it wants or expects.

Frustration-related aggression seems to occur most often in hand-reared cats and demanding cats.  In my experience, not getting food or attention are the most common triggers. Another reported trigger is when a cat is denied access to a favorite place, i.e. the outdoors, special room, bed, perch or cat tree.

Treatment is based on avoiding situations that cause frustration-based aggression by controlling the environment and teaching the cat to work for things it wants. This sounds simple in theory but can be challenging to put into practice. The first step in controlling the environment is to identify the situations that trigger the aggression. I recommend a diary that includes feeding schedule, litter box usage, sleep times, active times and any unusual occurrences such as house guests or repairmen as well as attacks. Include when, where and how the cat was acting before the attack took place. After a week or two, the diary looking for things that trigger the behavior. Once the trigger is identified, remove it from the environment. For example, many attacks occur in the kitchen about an hour before feeding. The hungry cat follows their caregiver around demanding food. When the demands are ignored, the cat escalates their demands to the next level by biting. To prevent this, I recommend an automatic feeder. Set the feeder up in a room away from the caregiver. The hungry cat will smell the food and vent their frustration on the feeder.

The second part of treatment is teaching the cat to work for things it wants. This involves teaching the cat to perform a specified behavior before being rewarded. There are many behaviors that cats can learn but I find the most useful is target. The cat is taught to touch a soft ball(the target) on the end of a wand in exchange for a reward like dolphins who jump out of the water to touch a buoy for a fish. Once the cat understands, ask it to follow the wand a short distance before touching. Slowly increase the distance the cat follows until it can be lead into a different room, away from the situation that causes frustration-related aggression.

In addition to the specific treatments listed above, I recommend more exercise for cats with frustration-related aggression. In veterinary college, I was taught that tired animals don’t get into trouble. Exercise burns energy and reduces the desire to control the environment. Use the target technique to exercise the cat by asking it to run and jump as it follows the wand. Set up on obstacle course to make it more fun. Also provide fun things to enrich the cat’s environment including multiple places to rest and play. Cat trees, window perches, cat friendly videos, enclosed outdoor porches and sound tracks are a few examples.

The most important thing to remember about frustration-related aggression is that negative reinforcement does not help. In fact, in my experience, punishment will make the behavior worse. Learn to recognize the signs of frustration in the cat and then follow the steps outlined above to stop it from escalating.

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, AVA2012, VIN.

 

Fearful or Defensive Aggression of Cats Toward Humans

Fearful or defensive aggression occurs when a frightened cat attacks the human who caused their fear. A cat with fearful aggression has adopted “the best defense is a good offense” motto to deal with their anxiety. The aggression may be directed toward strangers, family members or both. This kind of aggression occurs when a cat can’t escape from a fearful situation. The trapped cat assumes a crouched position with their ears flattened against their head and their hair standing on end to look bigger. They hiss, spit and growl warning people to stay away or suffer the consequences. Ignoring these warning signs results in painful bites and scratches. After being attacked, the human leaves the cat alone which is exactly what it wanted in the first place. The cat learns to be aggressive in order to make the scary person leave.

The first step in dealing with fearful aggression is a thorough history.  Was the cat properly socialized as a kitten? Does the cat have any medical problems like osteoarthritis that makes it feel vulnerable? Who does the cat attack? When and where do the attacks take place? How does the victim and also the owner (if not the victim) react? What kind of punishments, if any are used? How often do the attacks occur? In my experience, harsh physical punishment makes this kind of aggression worse because it intensifies the fear. Great care must be taken to avoid punishing a fearful animal of any kind.

Once a thorough history is taken, the next step is a physical exam looking for health issues. The veterinarian will look for dental disease, osteoarthritis and other conditions that cause pain. They will also check the cat’s hearing and vision that can make the cat feel more vulnerable leading to fear. The last step is blood work and a complete urinalysis to look for other diseases such as hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease and liver disease which are common in older cats.  All health issues including painful dental disease must be addressed before moving onto behavioral therapy.

Treatment for fearful or defensive aggression is based on counter-conditioning and desensitization of the cat to the person(s) it fears. Here  are the steps for dealing with fear-based aggression toward a family member:

Step One: Keep the cat away from the person(s) it fears. when the scary person leaves every time the cat hisses, the cat learns to hiss and growl when they see the person they fear. Stop the interaction to stop reinforcing the bad behavior.                                                                         Step Two: Reward the cat for calm behavior. When the cat is relaxing, give it a tasty treat. Teach it that good things happen when the cat is relaxed.  For cats who are not food motivated, try playing instead. Use a fake mouse or feathers on a long string for distance. Step Three: Introduce the person it fears. Have the scary human toss treats to the cat from a distance to avoid triggering the cat’s fear. The person should speak in soft tones, move slowly and refrain from staring to avoid scaring the cat.                                                              Step Four: Slowly reduce the distance between the cat and the person it fears. Watch the cat closely for signs of fear and back off immediately. Signs of fear include dilated pupils, flat ears, raised hair, hissing or growling.                                                                                                    Step Five: Pet the cat. When the cat is comfortable eating in the presence of the scary person, they should gently pet the cat. If the cat keeps eating, they are in a relaxed state and the petting may continue. If the cat stops eating, stop the interaction immediately.

If the cat is afraid of visitors, place a harness on the cat or put it in a carrier to keep the guest safe then follow the same steps. If the family is unwilling or unable to follow this protocol, the cat should be confined to their safe room whenever visitors are present.

Most cats with fear-based aggression will respond well to behavior therapy. In rare circumstances psychotropic medications are needed. Since these medications have many unwanted side effects, they are only used in extreme cases.

Sources:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, AVA2012, VIN.

 

Redirected Aggression in Cats

Cats display a complex behavior known as redirected aggression. According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, ” Redirected aggression arises from the cat being in an aggressive or agitating circumstance, but unable to vent that aggression on the causative agent.” Here’s a common history. A cat is looking out the window and sees another cat invade their yard. The angry cat wants to attack the intruder lurking on the other side of the glass. Since they can’t, they attack whatever is close. This can be humans or other animals in their immediate vicinity who are innocent bystanders. The victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Redirected aggression can be caused by the sight, sound or smell of another cat or animal. Less frequently, unusual sounds, unfamiliar people or objects and even pain may trigger an episode.

Treatment is based on removing the inciting factor from the cat’s environment. This is often easier said than done. For outdoor cats or other animals, cover windows and remove perches and furniture from the area. Remove any sources of food, water and resting places from the yard that may attract other cats or animals. Discourage visiting cats with motion detector air canisters or water systems that provide a surprise shower. Shield the cat who suffers from redirected aggression from windows by blocking their access to the window. Removing furniture and/or covering the window will work for cats who are visually aroused but may not be enough if scent is the trigger.

Once a cat becomes aroused, it should be left alone to calm down. Create a safe room for the cat that contains a litter box, water, food and a Feliway diffuser. Gently herd the cat to the room with a broom or box. A cat in this state of arousal may inflict serious damage on people or other animals. Take extreme caution to avoid injury. If the cat must be picked up, use a thick quilt wrapped around their entire body including the head. Once in the room, turn the lights off and leave immediately. Give the cat plenty of time to calm down before entering. For some cats, it may be several days before they are back to normal. A video camera placed in the room is a great way to access their state of arousal from a safe distance. An aroused cat will have a bushy tail, dilated pupils, flattened ears and growl as they pace about the room.

If the inciting cause cannot be completely removed from the cat’s life, then counter-conditioning and desensitization may help control re-directed aggression. The cat is exposed to the stimulus at a low level and then rewarded for good behavior. Slowly the cat will learn to associate the stimulus with good things as the feelings of anxiety disipate.

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. “Feline Aggression Toward People” Australian Veterinary Association Proceeding 2012, AVA2012, VIN.com.

 

Wool Sucking in Cats

Wool sucking is a compulsive behavior seen in cats, especially in Siamese and Birman breeds. Cats affected with this medical disorder suck, lick and chew on soft materials including wool and other fabrics. Over time, they often progress to other materials including rubber, nylon, cardboard, paper and plastic.  I know of one cat who got into a closet and chewed out the inseam of his owner’s favorite jeans. Another cat suffered electrocution when she went after an electric cord.  She received a nasty bruise on the roof of her mouth but survived.

The cause of wool sucking is not completely understood. Dr. Borns-Well performed a case controlled study of 204 Birman and Siamese cats and found that small litter size and early weaning was associated with an increased risk of wool sucking in the Birman breed of cat. In Siamese, the risk of developing wool sucking increased when they developed other medical conditions. Further research by Dr. Nicholas Dodman into the genetics suggests a dominant mode of inheritance for this condition. Another common finding in affected cats is an abnormally intense appetite. These cats are extremely oral, mouthing anything in reach when they are hungry.

Treatment is based on decreasing the stress that causes this compulsive behavior and providing alternative outlets when it occurs. Here’s how I tackle patients with wool sucking:

  1. Medical examination – The work-up for a cat with wool sucking always starts with a thorough veterinary examination and lab work looking for other medical problems. Cats are good at hiding their illnesses until they become severe.  Through blood work and physical examination, I find many of these patients have chronic problems when their family thought they were healthy. The behavior decreases and sometimes stops when the underlying problem is resolved.
  2. Environmental examination – The next step in the work-up for wool sucking is evaluating the cat’s environment for specific stress inducers as well as behavioral enrichment areas. Cats have a pretty simple routine – hunt, eat, urinate/defecate, groom, rest. A healthy environment will provide specific areas for all of these behaviors to occur. Stress occurs from lack of resources, other housemates that may bully the cat, outdoor cats and the lack of outlets for normal behaviors. Cats view valuable things like resting spots, food and litter boxes as valuable resources. Problems occur when there aren’t enough to go around. Ideally, there should be one litter box for each cat. Place the box in a private area with at least two escape routes to prevent another cat or dog from cornering the cat. The same rule applies for food and water bowls. Use a large dog bowl for water as cats like to drink from large flat surfaces. For resting areas, variety is the key. I like to give the cat a choice between low places (basket in a closet, blanket under a bed, cat tunnel, etc), medium places (chair when pushed under a table, sofa back covered with a blanket, inbox on a desk, etc) and high places (perch on upper window, closet shelf, cat tree, etc). If outdoor cats are a problem, keep the perches far away and cover windows with blinds.
  3. Normal behavior outlet – Entertainmental areas are important for giving the cat an outlet for their normal behaviors. In the wild, feral cats hunt, stalk and then kill their prey. Behavior enrichment for indoor cats should provide the means for expressing these behaviors. Window perches by a bird feeder, aquariums, cat trees and cat videos appeal to the hunting instincts of cats. Scratching post scattered throughout the house are fun as well. Use posts with vertical as well as horizontal surfaces for scratching. Interactive toys including feather wands, stuffed mice on a string, while balls and wads of paper are great for stalking and exercise. Remember to let the cat catch and kill the toy every few minutes to simulate normal hunting. My cats come running when they hear me get the feather wand out of the closet. I have to put it away between plays times because they will chew it up. I am not a fan of laser pointers because some cats develop frenzied play syndrome because they can never catch and kill the dot.
  4. Outlets for wool sucking behavior – Even with a good environment, some cats will still exhibit the wool sucking behavior. The key in dealing with this is to redirect the behavior away from the expensive inappropriate items to safe toys. Soft cat toys and stuffed animals work well for this. A small amount of cat nip or lanolin may be rubbed on the toy to help attract the cat. Place the toys in areas where the wool sucking behavior occurs. With time, the cat will learn to seek out their special toys when they feel the need for oral stimulation. Since many of these cats seem to have extreme hunger, break up their meals throughout the day. Put food in puzzle feeders or treat balls and then scatter them throughout the house. Make the cat work to find the food. Encourage the cat to play and then reward them with small bits of food. Because of their food motivation, many of these cats can learn to do all kinds of tricks.
  5. Severe Cases – In some cats, the compulsive behavior is ingrained and drug therapy is required. For these cats, I also recommend creating a safe room filled with soft toys for mouthing until the compulsive behavior is better controlled.

Sources:

-Borns-Well, S, et. al., A case-control study of compulsive wool-sucking in Siamese and Birman cats (n=204). J. Vet. Behav. November/December 2015:10(6):543-548.

-Dodman, Nicholas. Recognition, Management and Genetic Findings in Canine and Feline Compulsive Disorders. Tuft’s Canine and Feline Breeding Genetics Conference 2015.