Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amazing Cat Facts

This article is courtesy of Life's Abundance and the November 2016 Newsletter:

Top Five Amazing Cat Facts

I used to think I was a dog person, which lasted right up until I adopted a cat. While I’m still a huge dog fan, I no longer believe you have to prefer one over the other. There’s a reason cats are the most popular pet kids in North America!

Yes, cats are nothing like dogs: they are enigmatic, independent, sometimes aloof and always entertaining. Their completely unique natures are, in my opinion, their most endearing feature. It should come as no surprise that in addition to their one-of-a-kind personalities, they also have some pretty exceptional physical features and roles to play in our society. As a veterinarian, writer and cat enthusiast, it pleases me to no end to learn more about these fabulous furballs. Here are just five of my favorite unique cat facts!

1. Cats can use their mouth to smell

Have you ever seen your cat take a big sniff, then pull their mouth back in what looks like a sneer? That’s called the flehmen response, and it’s one of the wonderful, weird things that makes cats so unique. Cats have a special organ called the vomeronasal organ wedged up between the hard palate and the nasal septum. The vomeronasal organ is used to analyze pheromones, which is an important means of communication in the feline world. If you’ve ever gotten a good whiff of cat urine, you may make the same face … but unlike us, cats are actually gaining extra information from that stimulus.

2. Cats are well adapted to high-heat environments

Have you ever seen a cat pant? Hopefully not, because they aren’t supposed to. We all know that dogs use panting to dissipate heat, while humans sweat. Aside from a negligible number of sweat glands in the paws, cats do neither! Evolved from desert-dwelling creatures, cats have extremely efficient kidneys that can concentrate urine to a very high degree, meaning they can survive longer than other mammals with less water without becoming dehydrated. I watch my dark-coated cat Penelope seek out blocks of sunlight all the time … like many cats, she thinks “The hotter, the better!” Meanwhile my dog is laying on the coldest spot of floor he can find.


3. You can’t top a cat’s night vision

Cats are unusual in that they have both predator and prey adaptations. One of their most unique features is their slit pupil, which allows the pupil to contract more quickly than the circular pupils of dogs and humans. This means they adjust more quickly to changes in ambient light. They also have the largest eyes of any mammal relative to their size! They have several other adaptations meant to ensure they can see well at night, including more rods in the back of their retina as well as a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue that gives their eyes that eerie green glow.

4. Cats could have changed the course of history

In the Middle Ages, the Black Death swept through Europe, killing off an estimated 25% of the continent. The causative agent of bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, was found to be carried by fleas who moved about the countryside on rodents. During the Spanish Inquisition, cats were condemned as evil and killed by the thousands. This cat depopulation allowed the rodent population to explode, extending the effects of the plague. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if only cats had been spared and out hunting the plague carriers.

5. Hissing is a unique feline vocalization

Have you ever heard a happy cat hiss? Probably not. Though not all cats hiss, those that do are invariably upset or frightened. Experts believe hissing may actually have evolved as a mimicry of a snake hiss, a way to warn someone that whatever they are doing, the cat is not at all happy about it. If you have a cat who hisses, consider yourself lucky! It’s a clear warning to stop whatever is upsetting them before they escalate to the next level, something usually involving claws or teeth.

Dr. V.

Jessica Vogelsang, DVM





Monday, August 29, 2016

Pet Loss and how to deal

This article is from the Life's Abundance August 2016 Newsletter from Dr V.

dr v

As a veterinarian, a person regularly tasked with the sacred duty of helping beloved family members pass over the Rainbow Bridge, you might think that I had lots of training in vet school about how to help people during such a challenging time. To be honest, I didn’t. Almost none, in fact, which is a shame.

Oftentimes, the death of a pet is the first major loss experienced by a person, especially children. We know now that for many people, the pain and grief of losing a pet is as profound as the death of a person, yet people are often expected to carry on the next day as if nothing has happened. Openly discussing grief makes others uncomfortable, mostly because they don’t know what to say.

Because of this, we are often ill-prepared for helping people navigate the complicated maze that is grief. After working in pet hospice for several years, I have a better understanding than ever before about how profound this experience is for people, as well as how often they are pretty much left to figure things out on their own. There is much we can do as a veterinary community to better prepare families for the death of a pet, and also much that pet parents can do as well.

How To Talk to Kids

How many of us grew up with parents who said, “Oh, Fluffy ran away”? For many years this was the accepted way of dealing with a pet’s death: Denial. Not only does this deprive children of the opportunity to mourn, many kids (myself included!) felt a deep sense of betrayal when we got older and realized our parents deceived us. Although it comes from a loving place, it’s always best to be honest with our little ones.

1. Be Direct. Children do not understand euphemisms such as “put to sleep”. Children under five may not understand that death is permanent. It is normal for them to repeatedly ask when their pet is coming back, even after you have told them that a beloved companion animal has died.

2. Be Reassuring. It is natural for death to cause anxiety in children, and they may even experience nightmares. By reassuring them and being there for them, children know that they can trust in their family even during sad times.

3. Allow Them to Be Present. Depending on your own comfort level, of course, I strongly believe that children benefit from being present during the euthanasia process. I find children to be curious, accepting and often a very big comfort to their grieving parents! It is healthy for them to see how peaceful the dying process can be, rather than relying on their active imaginations to fill in scary details.

4. Allow Them To Grieve. There are so many ways children can express themselves during the grieving process: talking, drawing pictures, having a ceremony. In our house we had a Celebration of Life for our dog, complete with a poem my daughter wrote. I know of other families who hold goldfish funerals. It’s good for kids to know that memories and love do not end when the body is gone.

How to Deal With Other Pets

For a long time, I was ambivalent about whether or not other pets in the family needed to be present when a pet passed. After all, most of the times I helped with a euthanasia, it was in the veterinary clinic. All of that changed when I started going to people’s homes and experiencing the death process with the entire family.

Dogs and cats understand death. Perhaps we tell ourselves this based on intuition, but having seen it firsthand I truly believe it. I have seen feisty dogs full of energy calm down and curl up next to their dog brother or sister after they have gone; cats may wander in for just a moment and wander off, but they still take note. Either way, they seem to be able to sense the change that has taken place, some moment imperceptible to us. Just like children are confused when a pet suddenly disappears, there’s no reason to think our fur kids are any different.

How Grief Affects You

Make no mistake, the loss of a pet is a terrible thing. There is no need to minimize that sadness or try to push it aside; deep sadness reflects the depth of your love. You need to allow yourself the time to mourn the loss of your friend, the loss of what they brought to your family, and the time in your life that they signified.

1. Be gentle on yourself. If you find yourself surrounded by people who say unhelpful things like, “It was only a dog! You can get another one,” or some other inconsiderate things, find new people to talk to! Many areas offer pet loss support groups; if those are not available, you can talk to one of many pet loss support hotlines or even jump on the daily internet Pet Loss Support Chats run by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.

2. Know That There is No Timeline. Some people grieve for months or even years. Don’t let anyone tell you it is “time” to get over your loss.

3. Read Up On Pet Loss. One of my favorite pet loss resources for pet parents is “The Loss of a Pet” by Wallace Sife. This excellent book details the process of grief, specifically with pets, and also helps readers identify when grief is such that a professional counselor might be helpful.

4. Be a Good Friend. When a friend says goodbye to a beloved pet, remember how it felt for you and offer a kind word, a good memory and a big hug. Even if they say, “I’m OK!” it is often because this is what everyone expects them to say, and a compassionate ear can mean so very much.

It may sound strange to say this, but memorializing a loved one can be a truly life affirming moment. It teaches children (and ourselves!) that what is gone is not forgotten, that death is sad but it doesn’t have to be scary, and that we can get through anything when we support each other. The lessons we learn by saying goodbye to our fur kids carries over to other losses in our life, and helps us process grief in a healthy way so that we can move to a place where we are able to remember our loved ones with peace and joy.




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cat coat color related to feline behavior

Courtesy of  Life's Abundance: February 2016 Newsletter


Our companion animal’s coat colors, once only the concern of breeders, have now become the focus of research for other characteristics, including behavior. You may have heard reports that white coat color has been linked to deafness in both dogs and cats. Others have suggested a connection between coat color and aggressive behavior in some dog breeds. Now there’s some evidence of an association between feline behavior and coat color. But is there really anything substantial to this claim?

First, how do cats get their color? Coat-color pattern genes fall into four categories that control spotting, pigment intensity, orange and agouti color switching, and even patterns. Located on the X chromosome, several sex-linked genes are responsible for controlling fur color, such as orange and black. Female cats whose XX sex chromosomes have a genetic predisposition to orange and black fur display a patchwork coat, yielding what are commonly known as tortoiseshell coloring (affectionately referred to as “torties”). Other varieties of this include torbies (tortoiseshell tabbies) and calico mosaics. Male cats can have these coat colors, but only if they are an XXY, which makes male calicos and tortoiseshells extremely rare.

Researchers have also studied whether behavior can be inherited in the cat as well. A series of studies conducted from 1980s to the 1990s showed that cats inherit some levels of sociability from their fathers. They noted that certain aspects of a kitten’s personality remain relatively constant throughout the first few years of life, suggesting a genetic predisposition to personality (Lowe and Bradshaw, 2001). Type of cat breed influences differences in interactions with humans, for example, Siamese cats are more demanding and vocal toward their pet parents when compared with other breeds (Turner and Bateson, 2000).

There are lots of reports about what cat lovers think about the behavior of their cats and how that relates to coat color. Orange cats are thought to be friendly (Delgado et al, 2012), some perceive black cats to be wild and unpredictable (Huntingford, 2009), and still others claim that tortoiseshells have a combination of stubborness, independence and unpredictability (Delgado, Munera, Reevy, 2012). Way back in 1895, veterinarians were quoted as saying torties were ‘not overly affectionate, sometimes even sinister, and most ill-tempered in disposition’ (Huidekoper, 1895). How rude!

Playful Cat

Certainly, there are anecdotal reports of tortoiseshells and calicos being rather...shall we say...feisty, inspiring personality descriptors like ‘tortitude’ and ‘calico crazies’. However, due to the lack of actual research in this area, veterinary behaviorist Elizabeth Stelow and her team of researchers set out to determine whether coat-color can be truly linked to behavior in cats. The four-month survey disguised the fact that coat color was the primary subject, to avoid bias on the part of the responders. Over 1,400 pet parents filled out the survey, and the results just might surprise you!

Pet parents of kitties reported tortoiseshells, calicos, “torbies”, as well as black-and-white and gray-and-white cats, acted more frequently aggressive toward humans in three settings: during everyday interactions, during handling and during veterinary visits. The researchers were surprised that gray-and-white and black-and-white cats were reported as more aggressive in these settings.

But keep in mind … the behaviorists did not independently observe any cats themselves, so the study was completely reliant on the self-reporting of the cats’ guardians. Furthermore, the respondents were people who might have had preconceived notions about their cat’s behavior. This factor could skew the results for the tortie or calico cats, but what about grey-and-white or black-and-white cats?

Lounging Kitty

The study concluded that coat colors may be associated with aggressive behaviors in the cat but that the differences are actually relatively minor. These findings support some common assumptions about personalities associated with different cat color patterns, and can help people better understand their feline companions. Researchers also concluded that the subtlety of the results of this study suggests the need for additional research on the topic of the relationship between coat color and behavior. Anyone considering adopting a pet should pay attention to the behavior of each individual cat they meet, rather than making decisions about cats based on the coat color. I suppose one could honestly say, never judge a book by its color!

How about you? What do you think about the relationship between behavior and coat color in cats? Do you have any experience with calicos or tortoiseshells? Please share in the comment section below - we’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks

dr jane












References

Elizabeth A. Stelow, Melissa J. Bain & Philip H. Kass (2015): The Relationship Between Coat Color and Aggressive Behaviors in the Domestic Cat, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2015.1081820

Amat, M., de la Torre, J. L. R., Fatjó, J., Mariotti, V. M., Van Wijk, S., & Manteca, X. (2009). Potential risk factors associated with feline behaviour problems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 121, 134–139.

Amat, M., Manteca, X., Mariotti, V. M., de la Torre, J. L. R., & Fatjó, J. (2009). Aggressive behavior in the English cocker spaniel. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4, 111–117.

Bateson, W. (1894). Materials for the study of variation, treated with especial regard to discontinuity in the origin of species. London, England: MacMillan.

Becker, M. (2012). Is there a connection between markings and personality in cats? Retrieved from vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/is-there-a-connection-between-markings-and-personality-in-cats.

Dantas-Divers, L. M. S. (2011). Questions about coat color and aggression in cats (author response). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 239, 1288–1289.

Delgado, M. M., Munera, J. D., & Reevy, G. M. (2012). Human perceptions of coat color as an indicator of domestic cat personality. Anthrozoös, 25, 427–440.

Huidekoper, R. S. (1895). The cat: A guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short treatise upon their care, diseases, and treatment. New York, NY: D. Appleton.

Huntingford, J. (2009). The color of a cat can determine their personality. Retrieved from petwellbeing.com/ blog/the-color-of-a-cat-can-determine-their-personality.

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