Thursday, February 19, 2015

Veterinary behaviorist seeks participants from Ann Arbor area for upcoming study on conflict, aggression between family cats

Conflict and social tension amongst family cats is a problem that is all too common and can upend a household, leading pet owners to do whatever they have to do to keep the peace. Manifested by behaviors like passive blocking, staring, minor skirmishes or exchanges that escalate into fighting, it can at times necessitate the need for cats to spend time in separate parts of the house. 

“Cats are the number one pet: there are 81.7 million owned cats versus 72 million owned dogs. More cats are relinquished to shelters and disharmony between pets is a common reason for relinquishment," says Theresa DePorter, a veterinary behaviorist at Oakland Veterinary Referral Service (OVRS) based in Bloomfield Hills.

Last year, DePorter lead a study to see if a synthetic pheromone diffuser from Ceva Animal Health would be effective in decreasing aggression amongst household cats. Pheromones are chemical signals produced naturally by an animal — in this case, cats – to communicate with each other. They are released by rubbing, spraying or scratching areas to leave "messages".

She adds, "Estimates suggest only 4 out 10 cats who enter shelters make it out alive. We need to help cats get along with housemate cats so they can stay in their homes." 

That said, it can also be difficult to ease a new cat into a household. And Bombay, a 1 year-old tabby cat, is an example of that scenario. He's also a success story stemming from that study.
Bombay is a success story from the 2014 study.
Photo courtesy of Theresa DePorter

After being found as a stray (the owners were never located), Bombay joined a family that included 4 other cats, and it wasn't long before the skirmishes started. Bombay chased, tackled and bit while the other cats responded in kind by hissing, screaming and swatting. His owner, Susan Holland, is practice manager at the Michigan Humane Society and remained dedicated to resolving the issue, as she didn't want to rehome him — despite the knowledge that there was peace amongst the other cats previously. 

After pre-qualifying and then entering the study, Holland noted that by the two week mark, the "cats were out together more. I had to decide if some interactions were aggression or play! This was more playful than they have been in 6 months. I am thrilled to have the cats be social again."

45 multi-cat households with felines that exhibited aggression (more accurately defined as conflict/social tension) toward one another participated in the double-blind, placebo-controlled study, with 20 of the households being given the pheromone diffuser and 25 having received a placebo diffuser. The diffusers were used for a period of 28 days, and the participants kept a daily journal documenting any aggressive events as well as a weekly Oakland Feline Social Interaction Scale, (which assesses the frequency and intensity of 12 aggressive interactions, like biting, swatting, staring, blocking, vocalizing, etc.) 

The results of the study definitely show promise. The OFSIS scores were similar at the beginning, but by day 7, the mean OFSIS score of the pheromone group was measurably lower than the group getting the placebo. By day 21, the response was even better. That trend continued not only until the last day of the diffusers use, but beyond. Click here to read more results from the study.  

On the heels of success in the pilot study (which interestingly included households where felines exhibited aggression toward one another for an average duration of 822 days), DePorter is eager to recruit more cats and their humans to participate in a follow-up study, with enrollment continuing until April 28th. 

Though pheromone diffusers will still be the focus, this trial will be longer — 15 weeks — and DePorter is seeking only 70 households to take part.  Those aren't the only ways that this trial will differ from the previous: there will be no placebo group. Instead, this will be a comparative trial between two test formulations that are akin to each other. 

In order to be considered for the study, participants must first meet criteria with a prequalification screening. 

From there, participants will be required to attend one enrollment meeting, two of which are being held in Ann Arbor on April 6. At the meeting, DePorter will explain the complexities of feline aggression, how cats communicate (for example, body posturing), feline social structure and more. Attendees will also learn about what to do (or not do) when aggressive behavior between cats is present. Cats do not attend this meeting. 

DePorter, who has most recently written for Psychology Today in the 'Decoding Your Dog' series emphasizes, "It’s a safety and quality of life issue for cats and for owners. What is remarkable to me is that many of these cats have been fighting for years and years. These owners are dedicated to their cats but torn by the anguish. Understanding the cats innate motivations and responding with kindness and respect is essential to improving a cats welfare."

To learn more about the study, including how to be considered for participation, click here or contact Dr. Theresa DePorter by emailing or visit the OVRS website.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Life hack: a multi-purpose item can be used as a litter box for pet rabbits with arthritis

There are countless ways that we can help the pets in our midst live better, even if they have special needs. 

I've shared life hacks for aiding dogs in their mobility, and in creating an elevated feeding platform for them to make it easier to eat. 

Cats can use a little help when it comes to having success in the litter box department, and as I've illustrated, not all litter boxes are created equal. Dependent on a feline's size, age and how able-bodied they are, a shift in size or slope can make all of the difference and keep both of you happy. 

Another species isn't so different. Though most bunnies do fine learning to use a traditional litter tray made to fit in the corner of their enclosure, they can also benefit from a bit of consideration as they age or have mobility issues at other stages of life. In this case, thinking outside the box a little bit might just do the trick. 

A feeding tray, like one designed by Marchioro, is a viable option. The small tray is generously-sized yet compact enough to fit inside an enclosure, and is easily accessible for bunnies with mobility issues. It's easy to clean and has rubber feet to keep the tray in place. A spongy cabinet liner from the home improvement store cut to size adds a non-skid layer between the bedding and the tray to allow sure footing for your pet. 

Of course, the tray is great for messy canines and felines during mealtime or for their water dish, and can be ordered in a larger size. 

Click here for dimensions, consumer reviews and ordering information. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lost pets with medical conditions or special needs can be more easily identified with this simple item

Quite often in my daily adventures, I'll see a lost pet roaming the streets and you guessed it — I'll stop and see if I can somehow help get them back to their people. And judging from the numbers of pets that I see on the Humane Society of Huron Valley's Lost and Found page and Facebook pages like Michigan Lost Pet Lookers, a lot of other folks do as well.

That, somehow can be easy or difficult and is dependent on a few variables, but two are crucial: the dog's willingness to approach and what kind of identification they are wearing.

Pet ID tags are a boon in facilitating a fast reunion, so long as they are easy to read and have the right information on them. Ideally, there's a telephone number, address and name of both the owner and pooch. Some folks also include the vet's information on the tag, and I'm always happy to see a rabies and/or a microchip ID tag.

In the past, I've broached the topic of what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you have a lost pet, but the other day, something occurred to me. 

Identification tags and microchips are great, but they give a myopic snapshot of a pet, especially those with health issues or special needs. These days we have a better understanding of the daily management of our pet's health issues like diabetes, Mega E and others, and we've learned to adapt quickly when we share life pets who have sight problems or are deaf. But to someone that happens upon a lost pet and is trying to reunite them with their family, these things aren't as evident and that might complicate the situation. 

If you have a pet with special needs, you might consider having an additional tag made that had a little blurb like, "I'm diabetic!", "I have epilepsy", "I'm deaf!" or "I'm allergic to [insert allergy here]". 

You could certainly create ID tags like this at a kiosk at most pet stores. However in my research, I've discovered that there are websites including and (this site sells tags that are quite eye-catching, with a white cross over a brilliant red background) where you can order snazzy-looking tags that fit the bill. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Convincing a reluctant parrot to get in their enclosure is a cinch using positive reinforcement

One of the things that people ask when they find out that I'm a caregiver to so many animals is, "What's your favorite animal to care for?". 

That's a hard question to answer as I really have no "favorite", but I do love the variety of animals that I might be responsible for.  Since I care for so many species — mainly dogs, cats, avians and some reptiles — there is always something different and knowing how to keep each animal happy and agreeable is paramount, not to mention keeping things on track. 

Parrots, by their nature, are social creatures and in captivity that trait is magnified. It's important to be sensitive to that, and in doing so helps one understand why the following scenario plays out: you're preparing to leave the house for work (or in my case to my next appointment) and your feathered friend, who you have let out of their enclosure, is reluctant to go back in.

This is the scenario in many homes and I often experience this dilemma. I find it curiously funny and mischievous most the time because with some coaxing, the bird will usually hop on their stick (if they are stick trained) to be taken back into their enclosure or go in on their own.

On rare occasions, they'll continue to be resistant. One can't blame the bird — they know we'll be heading out to do goodness-knows-how-many-interesting-things while they're left alone in their comparatively small world. 

Forcing a bird to do anything is futile, if not harmful (the relationship is all about trust), and behavioral problems are bound to ignite. In order to get them back inside, they have to want to do it. And with positive reinforcement, that can happen. 

Positive reinforcement training isn't just for dogs — it's a great way to communicate nonverbally with your bird too, and with lasting results. 

The main thing is to convey that when the bird is inside the enclosure, good things happen for them. 

Birds are intelligent animals, and they love to stay busy. If there aren't things to keep their minds and bodies occupied when left alone and inside their enclosure, there's no motivation to go in — so enticing a bird to go into their safe space comes down to conveying to them that what goes on inside is far more exciting than what is outside. 

Here are tricks that I employ with my charges:

-- Consider what your bird's favorite foods are and include a couple of those in her breakfast bowl. Maybe it's warm food, or a high value treat. 

--Birds are ardent foragers. In the wild, it's how they spend much of their time. You can create bird-friendly foraging toys entirely out of fresh veggies and fruit, or by using empty boxes from the pantry, waxed paper and other bird-friendly objects. Baby bell peppers that have been cleaned and filled with chunks of roasted chile/sweet potato are a favorite of one client. Click here for more ideas.

--Keep your pal guessing! By rotating which toys, foods and foraging toys that you put in their enclosure, you'll keep their interest and thusly, foster cooperation when you need it. 

Regardless of what you choose to entice your bird, be sure put it inside their enclosure just prior to you needing them to go in. After some time, they will associate being inside their safe space as something to look forward to.

Watch the video below for an example of a fun foraging toy for an exotic bird.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.