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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Alternatives to catnip can be a happy-making boon for fussy or geriatric cats

Enrichment for indoor cats is the focus of a lot of talk these days, which is something I'm glad to see. With the push to keep cats indoors, it's keeping them healthier and safer, but in all honesty, many cats are bored to death. 

Cats are hunters. In the wild, they hunt, eat, groom, sleep, repeat—24 hours a day. They don't suffer boredom the way that indoor cats do. In a piece from earlier this year, I highlighted just one of the ways that veterinary professionals are trying to combat that. But there's so much more that we can do.

I often recommend using catnip as a form of enrichment in cats, especially those who are indoors-only, but it's also useful in other ways. 

Before taking cats to the vet, medicating them or administering sub-q fluids, I give them a little to set a positive tone, and coupled with Feliway it's especially effective. I also use it as an enhancement to boost a waning appetite in older cats, especially those struggling with inappetence associated with chronic kidney disease. Give said kitties a little catnip a few minutes before setting down a dish of food, and that can pique their interest. 

Some say that the herb doesn't seem to have quite the same effect on their feline friends, and for others, it doesn't seem to elicit the same effect as it once did. But there's some good news: they might have an alternative. 

A recent study on how catnip and three other plants—silver vine, valerian root and Tatarian honeysuckle—affect cats, yielded some interesting results. 

Researcher and owner of Cowboy Cat Ranch, Sebastiaan Bol, got the idea to test how the old standby fared alongside the other plants, and used participants from a cat sanctuary, a shelter, an animal hospital and even those living in family homes. The cats were divided into three behavioral categories: those who tended to be scared or shy, an intermediate (cats who had interest in being approached and would accept being petted) and affectionate cats (those who would approach and ask for pets).

Age, nor personality didn't seem to matter in terms of responding favorably and the same was true in terms of the sex of the cats. It does seem important to note that those who were more advanced in age had less-intense responses when given any of the plants. 23 of the 100 cats included in the study responded to all four.

Overall, silver vine was the most favored of the offerings, followed by catnip, Tatarian honeysuckle and lastly, valerian root. 

I found this study especially intriguing as in working with a lot of older cats, I'm looking for more ways to offer additional enrichment when the more traditional tools in my arsenal have fallen out of favor. If your cat isn't feeling the love when given catnip, you might perhaps try a different brand, or you can even consider introducing some silver vine.


Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and in animal hospice -- and the benefits of introducing palliative care with one's pet earlier. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fireworks season can be easier on pets and families with a tailored approach

Each year at this time, just as many other people here in Michigan, I delight in the arrival of the extended daylight hours; the warmer weather; not worrying about ice-covered roads; outdoor gatherings. Fireworks isn’t included on that list, and though I can appreciate other’s enthusiasm for them, they are the bane of those who share life with pets.

The noise is the chief offender when it comes to frightening pets, but I've no doubt that if the light and smell resulting from them are within a detectable distance of a pet, they’re contributors, too. It’s understandable; the loud pops and bangs are confusing and occur without any sense of place. Though it need not be a precursor, for a pet that already has some level of anxiety or fearfulness, the things that make fireworks enjoyable to humans only feed the behaviors that signal to us that our pet is having even more trouble coping. 


Over the years, I’ve had more companion animals in my care that find themselves in this situation than I care to count. My own dogs were included in that group. I’ve learned a few things in that time, and thankfully, there are more strategies and tools to help stave off the anxiety and fear associated with the nightly light and noise shows—and to assuage it if it’s already a problem. The key, as is the case with so many things, is to anticipate and plan ahead.

The approaches of using storm treats, T-Touch and Thundershirts is something that I’ve written about in the past, but there’s still more that families can do to keep the peace during these particularly taxing periods of time. Whether you've a young pet or an old friend in hospice or end-of-life—the latter posing its own set of emotional challenges—there's some flexibility in choices. 

Pheromone analogs aim to appease

A staple in my day-to-day work, pheromone products work to promote a sense of calm and well-being in dogs and cats, and can be found at vet clinics, better pet stores or online. What are pheromones and how do they work? Pheromones are natural chemicals produced by mammals, and different types serve various functions depending on where they are secreted, but in this case, we're focusing on the ones that aim to appease, happy make, feel good. A synthetic form of the real thing, Adaptil for dogs, and Feliway for cats are available in a plug-in diffuser, spray and for dogs, families also have the choice of a collar.


Herbal and nutraceutical approaches

Rescue Remedy - What’s in this tiny bottle does so much. Long sought after to alleviate anxiety in humans, there’s a formula for pets, too. Available at better pet and health food stores, no vet prescription needed.

ComposurePro chews – Available from veterinarians, these tasty gems are readily accepted by both dogs and cats. Bovine colostrum- and vitamin-based, this product promotes stress reduction and a sense of calm. 

NutriCalm – A combination of amino acids and herbs, this product is available in capsule form for medium to large-sized dogs, and a liquid form for cats and smaller dogs. As with the aforementioned products and as the name suggests, it can be a help to promote a sense of chill. 

Zylkene – This nutraceutical is something I'm really excited about. While attending a Fear Free workshop in Arizona a few weeks ago, I spent some time learning about this product by the Vetoquinol company. What makes it unique? It's formulated with bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, and is good to implement before potentially stressful situations not limited to fireworks season. Events like a move, bringing a new baby home, a visit to the groomer or vet and even preparing for the transition to an adoptive home are appropriate. Zylkene is purported to allow pets to be more receptive to behavior modification training as well. 

Solloquin – Formulated with an amino acid as well as plant-based ingredients and others., this product from Nutramax Labratories boasts its ability to help dogs and cats get in their chill zone. Additionally, Solloquin is indicated to help address inappropriate elimination in cats, and would be a great addition to help make introductions between established family cats and new-kid-on-the-block kitties go more smoothly. 

Though these products are not pharmaceuticals, and don't cause sedation per se, they still need to be used with care. Despite the fact that you'll likely be able to find them available for purchase online, there's no guarantee of their authenticity through that avenue. The good news is that you can get them through your veterinarian, which is where you can figure out which product or combination thereof is right for your furry friend. Your clinician can help you sort out any possible contraindications with existing herbal supplements, prescription medication and diagnosed medical conditions.

Something new

Sileo, a new prescription option on the market, is designed to home in on one pressing issue associated with fireworks: noise aversion. Launched in May, Sileo is delivered transmucosally and is not sedating. This drug is not indicated for every dog, but that's something your veterinarian can help you decide. It seems mindful to note that there have been reported incidences of overdose in dogs, so it's a must that families (and pet sitters) are clear about how to dose and administer it properly. 

Queue up the tunes

Music is an area of great interest in recent years, and while classical has been touted as the gold standard for soothing anxiety and offering an audible buffer to offending noise in dogs and cats, a recent study suggests that our canine friends respond favorably to reggae as well. What kind of music would be most effective to help a pet in hospice and end-of-life? Harp music. Click here for more. 

No matter if you've one pet or a menagerie, there are plenty of choices to help your family navigate this ever busy and noisy time of year with more finesse.


Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in providing support to families with pets receiving palliative and hospice care under a veterinarian’s supervision. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.