You may not think so, but that flabby tabby sleeping on the couch probably has stress.
Consider how cats were designed to live, inhabiting an acre or more, primarily solo, occasionally interacting with another cat with an intersecting territory, eating mice and/or birds. (It takes a lot of mice to feed a cat – all of that hunting takes a lot of time.) Maintaining their territory and protecting their resources is essential to survival. They are naturally vigilant and neophobic (afraid of new things), and give suspicious objects and individuals a wide berth. If there is too much stress in a neighborhood, they move.
Now consider how indoor cats live with us. They are usually confined to an area of less than 2000 square feet, in close proximity to other individuals without the opportunity to select their roommates, sharing potty areas, sleeping spots, food, and water. Their environment may change at random (new furniture, new odors, favorite items stolen, strange people knocking down walls and altering countertops, etc) and they have no control over the access of other animals to the borders of their territory (windows, doors). The list of stressors can be endless.
Combine the elevated stress hormones with an endless supply of high-carbohydrate dry food (spaghetti with meatballs) and an almost empty calendar of events, and it’s no wonder most tabbies are flabby!
While this lifestyle does protect our feline friends from being hit by car, bitten by dogs, getting lost, and a host of other bad things, the obese and sedentary lifestyle comes with a host of negatives of its own. There is an intricate interplay between stress hormones, obesity, and inflammation that can influence pancreatic health and diabetes, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis (formerly known as Feline Urologic Syndrome), and probably every other inflammation-prone tissue in the body. There are also behavioral consequences of this lifestyle, including urine marking, inappropriate elimination, inter-cat aggression, and aggression redirected toward humans, other animals, or the environment.
So what can you do?
The most important thing to remember is that cats have less stress when there are more resources. Not more in bulk, but more in terms of access points. A larger number of resource clusters allows cats to exist in a smaller territory.
Food: Choose a high-protein dry (unless your cat’s medical status dictates otherwise) to supplement a canned base diet. Canned foods should be without added carbohydrates. An extensive review article published recently in JAVMA indicated that the protein content of the food drives water consumption and influences a number of other factors which are beneficial to urinary tract health, gastrointestinal health, and weight management. Dry food should ideally be distributed in small quantities around the house, either in bowls or in food-dispensing toys. Food can be elevated on a perch, on the floor, under the bed, in a closet… Or hidden under a box. The cheapest food-dispensing toy ever is simply a toilet paper tube with one end closed. Spreading out food like this decreases stress in multicat households and allows the cat to engage in some purposeful hunting behavior, mimicking a cat’s wild feeding pattern.
Litter boxes: Even a cat living solo may need more than one toilet, especially if the cat is arthritic or the house is especially large. Split level homes should have a litter box on each level – think one litter box per shared people restroom if you only have one cat. Multi-cat households need even more – a good guideline is one more litter box than you have cats, but here it gets tricky. Two litter boxes side by side, with no divider, is really one restroom with 2 toilets and no privacy. Kitty stress will be reduced and litter box access will be improved if the litter boxes are at least separated, and are arranged in a manner which prevents one cat from guarding access to them all at the same time.
Scratching posts and perches: People have people furniture in every room of the house. The cats should have some furniture, too – at least in shared areas. Scratching posts should be somewhat spread out, ideally with one per cat because the posts really are territorial markers. I personally find the combination kitty towers to be attractive to the cats, attractive to the people, and effective. Perches do not have to be limited to kitty towers and the tops of posts, however. Beds on the corner of a desk, on an accessible shelf, or in a window work well. The more cats you have, the greater the need for multiple elevated perches. Elevation provides the cat with a sense of safety and security, and in a multi-cat household reduces the likelihood of agonistic encounters.
Petting and play: To a great extent, your level of interaction with your cat will be dictated by the cat. However, your cat needs some interaction every day. Cats who “don’t like to be petted” may have legitimate pain issues which should be addressed. That being said, most cats are up for a good head rub now and then. Cats can be taught to accept grooming, if you are careful, use a matt rake, and keep sessions short. “Play” for cats can vary greatly, from actively running and jumping after a wand toy to simply watching an object move. If you keep play sessions short, and offer them often, even pretty lethargic cats can be induced to at least throw out a few swats now and then. Wand toys and laser pointers are the most popular toys among cats.
Outdoor access: For some cats, a little taste of the outdoors can make a big difference. There are a number of “window seats” designed for cats that can be installed even in rental units to allow your feline companion his or her own bay window. There are also outdoor units designed like hamster habitats that allow you to create a series of “kitty tubes” outdoor. Some companies make kitty kennels that can be placed outside a window fitted with a cat flap to allow outdoor access. There is often a concern about other cats having access to your cat through the mesh of these enclosures. The kitty kennels can be protected by strategic placement of a few Sssscat units. Motion-activated sprinklers can be used to protect larger areas, like the perimeter of a yard. In reality, as long as direct cat-to-cat contact, with bite wounds occurring, and access to areas used for potties by outside cats is restricted, the risk to your housecat in having this kind of restricted outdoor access is minimal.
In most cases, a few simple adjustments to the environment can make a huge difference in kitty stress.
Brenda Mills, DVM
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that usually causes kidney failure but may also cause meningitis or liver failure. Symptoms may include fever, weakness, pain, inappetence, vomiting, and diarrhea. The organisms are shed in the urine of affected animals, including wildlife, and may survive for weeks or even months in water or moist soil. Leptospirosis is commonly considered to be a “wet weather” disease, and direct exposure to carrier animals is not required for infection due to the possibility of the organism being carried in runoff.
To acquire immunity, the immune system must be exposed to characteristic structures, usually proteins, that serve as a fingerprint for a bacterial or viral organism. These structures are found on the outside of the organism. There are three ways for an immune system to see these structures:
Through natural exposure to the organism (infection)
Through intentional exposure to key parts of the dead organism (killed vaccine)
Through intentional exposure to the living organism after the organism has been rendered harmless (modified live vaccine)
While infection typically results in the longest-term immunity to an organism, the disease caused by infection is what we are trying to avoid by inducing immunity. Killed vaccines are much safer than natural infection, however, since the organism is dead and not reproducing in the animal or doing anything else to excite the immune system, an adjuvant (irritant) is required to provoke the immune response. While the organism portion of the vaccine will be removed in the course of developing immunity, the adjuvant usually remains behind and may act to chronically provoke the immune system. Modified live vaccines introduce actual organisms which are unable to cause disease but otherwise behave exactly like an infection, provoking the immune system without the need for adjuvants. These vaccines are completely cleared from the body when their job is done.
Most of our vaccines are against viruses, which are much smaller and have less complex fingerprints than bacteria. Vaccines against bacterial diseases are difficult to develop, very complex, and result in short-term immunity. The original Leptospirosis vaccines were made by essentially running the actual organism through a blender to rupture and kill it. This produced a vaccine that was safe from the perspective of not being able to cause disease, but which had a tremendous capacity to over-excite the immune system because the vaccine not only exposed the individual to the important structures on the outside of the bacteria, but also to all of the stuff on the inside. This gave Leptospirosis vaccines their reputation for causing “bad reactions.” These vaccines typically last approximately 11 months.
What we use:
A huge improvement in the safety and efficacy of Leptospirosis vaccines came with the advent of genetic engineering, which allowed the production of purified subunit vaccines. Through the magic of gene splicing, E. coli was used to produce specific proteins which occur on the outside of the bacteria, reducing the number of molecules in the vaccine, making it safer and more effective. This vaccine still requires the use of an adjuvant and provides approximately 11 months of protection.
A newer vaccine, which now provides immunity against the four major species of Leptospirosis, is a non-adjuvanted modified live vaccine. A virus has been engineered to infect the patient’s cells with harmless components which make the cells pump out proteins and train the immune system to recognize the fingerprint of Leptospirosis. This vaccine mimics natural infection without causing disease, provoking immunity which has been shown to last at least 15 months without the use of an adjuvant and this is the vaccine we are currently using – Recombitek by Merial.
Brenda Mills, DVM
Fast Facts – as related to the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1998 in our required Behavior class:
In the early days of veterinary vaccine development, vaccines were by necessity clumsy and nearly impotent concoctions created by treating the disease agent to render it harmless and adding a compound to irritate the immune system and make it notice an otherwise harmless agent. These vaccines were far safer than natural exposure to the disease but contained a lot of extra material that the immune system really didn’t need to worry about, and resulted in relatively short-term immunity (1 year or less). The availability of veterinary care and the expense of vaccination meant that many animals were un-vaccinated or under-vaccinated, and even well-vaccinated animals might have faulty immunity, so Parvovirus, Distemper, and the like were potentially life-threatening risks for young dogs who had not completed their vaccine series.
Enter the modern-day vaccine. The majority of the vaccines administered by veterinary professionals are now genetically engineered, modified-live vaccines that safely mimic an infection – from the immune system’s perspective – and provoke a strong, targeted immune response with the initial injection. Additional doses are administered to make the immune system “remember” the vaccine and put the important information about the diseases into its long-term memory. Even young puppies can now have good protection, and nowadays behavior is a bigger risk to survival than the diseases against which we vaccinate.
Early socialization and training is behavior vaccination!
When should puppies go to their first puppy class and puppy socials? Two to 14 days after coming home! In a perfect world, every puppy would be enrolled in a class taught using positive motivation, reinforcement and reward before coming home. If the start date falls within the first 48 hours of bringing your puppy home, or if your puppy requires a “quarantine” period because he or she just came out of the shelter, leave your puppy at home and attend class solo so you can start your homework and keep from falling behind!
Which puppies can go about the neighborhood on pavement, rock, and bare dirt from the day they come home? Puppies whose mothers are known to have been up to date on their vaccines or vaccine titers, according to their veterinarian, at the time they were bred and who received a vaccine against Distemper, Adenovirus, and Parvovirus from a veterinary professional at least 10 days before they went to their new homes. These puppies should be experiencing the world from the time they come home even if they are only 8 weeks old.
Which puppies should be socialized primarily in their new homes for the first 2 weeks after coming home? Puppies whose breeders use vaccines from the feed store for the mothers and/or the puppies, whose mothers have uncertain vaccine histories, who were not vaccinated before leaving the litter, or who have been out of an animal shelter for less than 2 weeks.
Which puppies should wait longer than 2 weeks after going home to go out and about in their new world? Only puppies who are sick!