Environmental Enrichment

Who Peed on the Rug?? Or...Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)

A complaint cat owners sometimes have is that their cat is urinating outside of the litter box. There are various medical and behavioral problems that can cause this, but we will focus on one condition in particular called feline idiopathic cystitis, or FIC for short. FIC is a sterile inflammatory disease of the bladder in cats, particularly indoor cats.

While all the causes of FIC are not entirely understood, stress is an important component. Research has shown that in susceptible cats, stress can result in inflammation of the inner lining of the bladder. Once this happens, the cells in the bladder can become further irritated by the urine and cause even more inflammation. Some cats are more prone to feeling stressed when their owners' schedules change, new people or animals are around the house, stray cats are in the yard, if there are any changes to the litter box, etc. 

Just because your cat is lounging around the house does not mean he is not stressed! Cats are good at hiding their feelings so we do not always know what they are thinking or feeling.

Signs you may see at home can include urinating out of the litter box, urinating small, frequent amounts, straining to urinate, and bloody urine. Male cats with this condition can develop a urinary obstruction, meaning that they have an obstruction in their urethra (the tube that goes from the bladder out) preventing them from being able to urinate: this is a medical emergency. Signs of FIC are often mistaken for a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs in young, healthy cats are actually quite uncommon (less than 1-2% incidence), so it is important to check for infection before treating with antibiotics! Bouts of FIC usually run their course in 3-7 days, so just because a cat has been treated with antibiotics and improved does not mean there was an infection present. This inflammatory disease is often a recurrent problem, which can be frustrating for owners and uncomfortable for the cats.

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, he or she should be evaluated by a veterinarian and have tests done (usually a urinalysis and urine culture) to make sure there is not an infection present. There are some medications that can be used to help decrease pain and spasming of the urethra, but ultimately the inflammation has to run its course. Crystals can sometimes be seen on the urinalysis, but unless there are bladder stones present (which would be seen on x-rays), these are considered secondary to the disease, not a primary cause, and therefore do not necessitate treatment.

There are, however, some changes that can be implemented at home to help decrease the risk of recurrence or decrease severity of signs:

  1. Water Intake: It is believed that increasing water intake can help to promote more frequent urination and prevent accumulation of debris which can trigger inflammation or cause an obstruction. This can be done by feeding wet food rather than dry, making sure there are multiple bowls of fresh water, adding tuna juice to the water to entice water consumption (although be sure to change this frequently to make sure it does not go rancid), or by getting a running water bowl.
  2. Litter Boxes: Maintaining an adequate number of clean litter boxes also serves to promote more frequent urination. There should be one litter box in excess of number of cats (for example, if you have two cats there should be three litter boxes). It is also important that the boxes are cleaned regularly. If clumping litter is used, it should be scooped every day to every other day (ideally twice daily!) and cleaned entirely every 1-2 weeks. Many cats do not like liners or covered boxes as well, so if this is present it is recommended to remove the liner and uncover the box.
  3. Environment: Environmental enrichment, especially for indoor cats, can help decrease stress. This includes making sure there are an adequate number of toys and positive interaction with people by setting aside play time every day. It is also important to have areas that the cat can call his or her own to escape to, as well as providing elevated surfaces (for example, cat towers) they can climb and sleep on. Sometimes leaving music or television on while you are gone can be helpful. Also, it can be stressful for cats inside to see another cat outside in the yard in their territory. If this is the case, blocking the window so that they stray cat cannot be seen may help decrease stress.

Curiosity Saved the Cat: Ask Missy Anything Answers!

Hi Missy,

Our cat is an only pet. She is old, frail and never leaves her home. We hate for her to have to endure the annual visit and inoculations. Are all these shots absolutely essential for her well-being?

Love your glasses,
Pussy Willow's Mom

Dear Pussy Willow's Mom,

Good question, thank you!

While vaccinations are an important part of feline wellness care, the MOST important part of each visit is the doctor's physical exam. During a routine exam, veterinarians palpate (or feel) organs, check for arthritis which is common in senior cats, and listen to the heart and lungs in addition to noting the outward appearance of skin/hair coat, eyes, ears, mouth, etc. We also recommend annual blood, urine, and fecal testing which can help us catch and treat problems that are otherwise undetectable at early onset.

Cats are great at hiding problems until they become critical and the early stages of illness are usually very subtle. In the wild, this natural behavior extends life as an apparently strong, healthy cat is less vulnerable to predators. This instinct often does not dissipate within the protective walls of your home, but your watchful eye could help identify signs of trouble early. These signs could include increased thirst and/or urination, changes in appetite, unusual wandering throughout the house, howling, hiding, or not using the litter box appropriately.

As for the vaccines themselves, we recommend indoor-only cats remain current on their core immunizations: Rabies and FVRCP (aka HCP). The Rabies vaccine is required by state law to protect pets and humans alike. FVRCP is identified by feline veterinary specialists across the nation as a core vaccine group for all cats regardless of lifestyle. While exposure to these viruses is limited for Pussy Willow, their benefits likely far outweigh the risk of vaccination. Our doctors are happy to go through the pros and cons list on an individual basis during your pet's visit to help you make an informed decision as to what's best for you and your cat.

In short, while we do want to make sure our feline patients are current on their recommended vaccinations, we also want to stress the importance of regular exams with a veterinarian. We understand trips to our hospital can be taxing on pets and owners alike - especially for our elderly kitties - and sympathize with you whole-heartedly. Our entire team has been working hard to create a more relaxed environment for cats. A cat-only exam room with diffused pheromones and low-stress handling techniques are two ways in which we are achieving this goal. Ulimately, we truly believe that regular visits - ideally every 6 months, but at least once per year - are essential for a cat's well-being.

Linked below are some more articles that might help answer your questions! Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions I can answer for you.

"Carriers and Car Rides" article link

"Wellness Exams" article link

Thanks for being a great cat mom!

Missy

P.S. I love my glasses too, thank you!

Dear Missy,

One of my kitties, Charlie, likes to wake me up every morning by licking my face and hands and also poking me and meowing at me. I realize I've created a monster by serving her breakfast as soon as I get up so I know she wants to be fed (because she guides me right to her bowl) but why does she lick so much?

Thanks,

Charlie's Mom

Dear Charlie's Mom,

Please take a moment and read this article from the ASPCA, I think you will find the answer you are looking for! In this article, you will find helpful tips on correcting this licking behavior as well.  

You will find often that I quote Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist on Animal Planet. He is an amazing resource. He mentions in one of his many blogs that regulating a cat's digestion will help regulate their energy. I see you feed Charlie twice a day, canned Fancy Feast and 1/8 cup Royal Canin dry. You are already off to a great start! Why don't you try splitting up her portions into three meal times that fit your schedule? Plan the last meal about 1.5 hours before you go to bed. Before feeding, get a "Da Bird" wand (Amazon or PetCo) or something similar and interactively play with her for 10-15 minutes. Wear her out then feed her. Afterwards, she'll start to groom and head to bed with you with a full tummy and hopefully won't be as lovably obnoxious. Ideally, this should be done before breakfast too for best results.

Cats still have their ancestor's instincts even though we have domesticated them:

HUNT-->CATCH-->KILL-->EAT!

I would expect to see an improvement in this behavior within 10-14 days if you can commit. Consistency is key!

Thanks for your question! Keep me posted!

Missy

Dear Missy,

My cat was an abandoned cat in the Park Circle area and she was desperately thin and shy. Her owner had kicked her out since she is untrusting and will not be handled. After over a year living at my house she will let herself be gently petted sometimes but only with one hand, not two that could grab her unexpectedly. She has been living with me for 5 years now, but she is still not affectionate although I can corner her and get her in a crate for her annual visits to DIAH. The price I pay is that it takes about a month for her to let me touch again. So, as you can imagine, I don't crowd her. I have to let her come to me.

She will only sulk in the closet corner or under the guest bathroom sink cabinets (she is good at getting doors open) if I try to keep her indoors only. So, reluctantly, she has access to the doggy door which she uses easily. But, she mostly sits out on the back patio watching birds, chasing lizards.

She has been at DIAH several times with the crystals in the urine business. I have tried to convert her to wet food, but she just starts to not come home for days if she doesn't get her kibble which is the only thing she thinks is cat food, not cheese, yogurt, chicken pieces, etc. The big problem is that she doesn't drink enough on her own. Is there something I could put in her food that looks like kibble that would make her drink more water?

Nala's Mom

Dear Nala's Mom,

Thanks for your questions. I have some thoughts but there are situations where I feel like a home visit may be warranted. This may be one. I'll give you suggestions and we'll see.

Obviously, as you mentioned, she has trust issues. We can work with that. It will take time as there aren't usually any quick fixes.

I see you have two beagles. Just from reading some history she sounds like a big time stress kitty. Make sure she has a place in your living room where the family congregates where she can be with you all. Some place high, not just the back of a couch or top of the refrigerator. She needs to be able to have a quick escape from these high places so should she need to use a litter box, she can do so without feeling threatened.

Get a "Da Bird" wand off Amazon or at PetCo. Play with her for 10-15 minutes before meals...this will instinctively get her hunting behavior out. You may not want pups to be present during play. She needs a lot of environmental enrichment. It's awesome she gets to watch the birds and the lizards...let's get her to find something. Get a food puzzle, like the Pipolino, for cats and make sure you feed her just twice a day. She can roll it around and her food will drop out little by little.

Make sure she has 2 litter boxes in different locations. These boxes ideally need to be much larger than she is...she needs room to fully turn around inside the box. Wal-Mart and many other stores have done cats a disservice by selling the tiniest litter boxes known to man.

I am available for house calls. I would try the things described above (Da Bird wand, food puzzle, and verticle spaces) first to see if it helps with her trust.

Take care,

Missy

>^..^<

Combating Cabin Fever

We all know the phrase "Cabin Fever," and how boredom can make us do things we may not normally do if we were otherwise pre-occupied or content. This is something our pets may feel all too well. Statistics show that boredom, or lack of enrichment, can lead to many behavior problems if not caught soon enough. Lack of mental stimulation or opportunities for our pets to satisfy their natural instincts and behaviors can cause them to act out in ways that we only understand as "bad behavior." In a perfect world, humans and domesticated animals would live together in perfect harmony while entertaining one another's instincts.

Because this world does not exist, we must find ways to satisfy our pets' needs that don't involve our dogs digging to China in our backyard or our cats knocking every single item off of every shelf in an attempt to see which one will play back with them. The idea of enrichment is to provide mental and physical stimulation for our pets to help them live more rewarding and full lives. In the long run, this will help avoid naughty behaviors that may eventually break down that bond you and your four legged child may have.

We all know that ideally dogs would love to walk miles and miles each day and sniff every single blade of grass along the way. Cats would love to chase butterflies in the sunshine for hours on end. Unfortunately, because of our busy lives, this is not always an option. This does not mean there is no hope for your dog or cat. There are many ways to help them achieve the mental stimulation they need. Many of these things can be accomplished with household items you may already have.

Tips to Combat Your Pet's Cabin Fever

Toys: A rule of thumb is that 3 toys should be provided per pet, per day. These items can be switched out and reintroduced every 5 days to help maintain novelty. Keep in mind that you should be cautious of your pet's normal chewing behavior to avoid ingesting any part of the toy. Examples for dogs are rope toys, tennis balls, squeaker toys, and Kongs. Some options for cats are toy mice, jingle balls, and feather toys.

Environmental: Animals naturally enjoy viewing their environment from different angles. This may be easier to accomplish for cats because they are more inclined to climb on counters, shelves, and basically anything in reach. If an option, it would be valuable to allow your cat to have an area, or several, that they are encouraged to climb up on. Empty shelves mounted on a wall that create a ladder effect work great but a standard cat tree is beneficial as well. An idea for dogs is to allow visual access through a window or door. Not all dogs are a good candidate for this especially if they are typically reactive to seeing other people or dogs outside. A good option for those dogs is to leave on the television or radio.

Exercise: This category is one of the most important ones. This is beneficial for overall health but can also have a major effect on naughty behavior such as separation anxiety and and other negative results of pent up energy. Routine walks for your dog are certainly beneficial but there are particular reward neurotransmitters (nerve messenger cells) that are not released unless your pet undergoes high intensity endurance running. Essentially, there are certain functions of your pet's brain that are not stimulated unless this type of exercise exists for them. If you are not typically a runner, dog parks, open fields that allow pets, and even your back yard are a great option to help them reach these needs. It wouldn't be recommended to harness your cat and take him on a 3 mile run, but they can get their daily workout with a little help from you. A cat will chase a feather string toy or laser light for hours. This is encouraged to help them burn energy but it also has a great effect on their self-confidence.

Brain Puzzles: With a little creativity, you would be surprised how many ways you can provide your pet with enrichment. Dogs and cats love new scents. Think of all the things there are to smell while they are on a walk or outside. By using a spray bottle and infusing scents like cinnamon, rosemary, lavender, or chamomile onto your pets favorite bedding or toys, you can provide them with a change to seek and explore. Toxicity potential should be evaluated before using any product. Alternating scents is the best way to keep this a fun adventure for your pet. Empty cardboard boxes with windows cut in them can provide a fun hideout for your cat to explore. Laundry baskets with or without fabric in them placed in various positions provide a new obstacle for your cat to conquer. Switching out different types of fabrics can create an opportunity for your pet to rub and roll for more tactile stimulation.

Fun with Food: Food puzzles are a wonderful opportunity for your pets to engage in their natural instinct to hunt for food. These puzzles can be purchased at most pet stores or made by using cardboard boxes and plastic containers. If you live in a single pet household, spreading his or her meal out in separate rooms gives your pet a great excuse to sniff and search to find the food. If your pet is food motivated, using food puzzles during stressful events like thunderstorms or separation can keep him or her occupied and help with counter conditioning. Using empty egg carton containers to feed your cat or small dog is an easy option. As a treat, you can fill a Kong with peanut butter or freeze a bowl of water mixed with treats or chicken broth to entertain them for a while.

The possibility for enrichment ideas are endless! As always, you must take your pet's individual needs and current health into consideration as not all of these options are suitable for every pet and household. For assistance or questions about anything in this article, don't hesitate to contact us!