Do cats respond to their name?

Professor Toshikazu Hasegawa from the University of Tokyo with Atsuko Saito, Ph.D., who is currently an associate professor at Sophia University in Tokyo conducted a study to see if cats recognize their own name. The researchers felt that since cats are not as social as dogs and other mammals, that they may not respond to their name the way more social mammals do.

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What they found is that cats do respond to their name if their owners use the cat’s name often. It is interesting that previous research has shown that cats do distinguish between their owner’s voice and a stranger’s voice, can follow a person’s pointing finger to find hidden food, and may change their behavior depending on their owner’s facial expressions.

In my experience I have successfully taught my cats to come when called, sit and stay and do other things. This required that they understand and respond to their name as well as other words. I am glad that some researchers are looking into ways to validate the intelligence and abilities of cats. As for cats not being social in my experience some are very social, and some are not so social. I have owned cats that behaved more like dogs than cats. More research needs to be done.

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Do animals grieve the loss of a loved one?

There are many people who have seen what appears to be a grieving process in their pet when a loved one, human or animal, dies or otherwise leaves the home.

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I personally have seen this in both my dogs and cats from time to time. There are no set rules about how a pet will grieve, but the owner or caretaker will see a change in the pet’s behavior.

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Some signs are:

Panting, pacing, whining, fidgeting, weight loss due to a loss of appetite, becoming clingy when the pet was not that way before, wanting to touch another pet or person more than normal and a general sad behavior. I have had pets look for the lost companion, and generally mope around the house.

I have had more than one dog bond with another dog only to have to re-home the dog or the dog dies. Some people let the pet that is alive see the dead pet. They claim this helps. In my case I have often replaced the pet that passed.

The most dramatic incident that I have witnessed was something that I still cannot explain. Our Rottweiler Dempsey, had hip dysplasia and seemed to be in quite a bit of pain. I called our veterinarian and arranged to pick her up on my lunch hour to take her for x-rays. When I took her out of the front door, our Border Collie, Ness,  did something he never did before or after that incident. When I closed the front door, he threw himself at the door and screamed in a way I had never heard a dog do. I was puzzled since I had taken the Rottie to the groomers on a number of occasions in the same manner, picking her up on my lunch break and taking her for a bath, especially the time she got skunked. So the Border Collie had experienced this before.

Unbeknownst to me, she had very bad bone cancer and upon examining the X-ray, the veterinarian called me at work to tell me what he found. Her thigh bone was completely perforated, and the cancer had spread, so we decided she needed to be put to sleep. How did the Border Collie know? He was not the same after losing his buddy.

About a year later, we picked up another puppy that a friend had brought for me from France. We had the Border Collie with us at the airport when we went to pick up the new puppy. As my husband carried the puppy to the car, the Border Collie gave him a look that would have killed. It was as if the Border was saying, “How could you bring another dog here.” The story had a happy ending because it did not take long for Ness  to accept the puppy and they became fast friends.

What makes it difficult is that we cannot explain to the pet what has happened and why. We have to let them work out their grief in their own way and in their own time.

What we can do to help our pets when they grieve is to be there for them. Try not to change their routine. Let them cuddle if that is what they need. Give the pet extra play and exercise if possible. And in some cases a new companion may be the answer.

It is important to understand that all animals have feelings similar to ours. They understand that someone is missing. In cases where there is a sudden death of a person, the pet may not realize that they are gone right away. This is true if the person spent days away from home due to work or regular vacations. In time the pet will realize that the person is not coming back. That means the caretaker(s) of the pet, or the family left behind must keep an eye on the pet to watch for signs of grief which may not show up right away.

If the family is grieving the pet will react to that and it may be difficult to tell if the pet is grieving or reacting to the emotions of the people around him which can make his own grieving stronger.

There is no easy answer or solution to the problem of pet grief. Although it is a common phrase that is true, time will help, time will heal.

Maternal separation affects rat’s brains and changes adult behavior

Associate professor of psychology Christopher Lapish at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science has shown that if a baby rat is taken from its mother for 24 hours when the baby is nine days old, it changes their behavior as adults.

The study showed that there was memory impairment and less communication between brain regions as well as other neurological changes in the rat’s brain. Rats that were separated showed significant behavioral, biological and physiological, brain abnormalities in adulthood.

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The findings in this study have a bearing on humans as well. According to co-author Brian F. O’Donnell, professor of psychological and brain sciences at IU Bloomington, “children exposed to early-life stress or deprivation are at higher risk for mental illness and addictions later in life, including schizophrenia.”

This research is also supported by the findings that if kittens are taken from their mothers before they are weaned, they tend to show more aggressive behavior as adults. I know that children who are taken from their mothers at birth and put up for adoption have a higher rate of attachment disorder as a result.

Because rat brains have similarities to human brains, this study can lead to further findings. It would be interesting to study the behavior of all animals that are bottle fed by humans and even those that are fostered with a different mother to see if there are differences in their behavior from those that are raised by their birth mother.

Munchausen by Proxy for pets

Although it is rare, veterinarians should be aware of Munchausen by Proxy since it can involve pets.  To understand Munchausen by Proxy it is necessary to understand the Munchausen disorder.

Munchausen is a mental illness that involves faking, producing or prolonging an illness. People who have this disorder will go to great lengths to hide it. It is important to note that this disorder does not include faking illnesses to get out of going to work, winning a lawsuit, and it is not the same as hypochondria where the person actually believes that he is sick.

Munchausen by Proxy is when the mentally ill person fakes illnesses in a child, elderly person or pet to gain sympathy. There is not much data on Munchausen by Proxy in pets, but by understanding how it manifests itself in humans; a veterinarian may be able to detect it when it involves pets.

Here are some of the characteristics of this disorder:

The illness does not fit the classical picture

The Illnesses do not fit well together or do not relate

The caregiver is too helpful

The caregiver is often involved in the medical field

Complications can arise from the injuries

There are dramatic stories about the medical problems

Frequent visits to the doctor/veterinarian

Vague symptoms

Inconsistent symptoms

Conditions that worsen with no apparent reason

Eagerness for testing and surgeries

Extensive knowledge of medical terms and conditions

Frequenting many different medical professionals

Made-up histories

Faking symptoms

Self-harm or inflicting harm

Preventing healing

The persons most likely to have Munchausen disorder are those who:

Experienced a childhood trauma including sexual, emotional or physical abuse

Had a serious illness in childhood

A relative with a serious illness

Poor self-esteem or identity

Loss of a loved one early in life

Unfulfilled desire to be in the medical profession

Work in the health care field

According to the statistics, more males and young or middle-aged people are most likely to have Munchausen disorder.

What should you do if you suspect that your client has this disorder? First try to diagnose the illness in the pet with tests to be certain that it is real. Go for a cure rather than treat symptoms.

Talk to your pet’s owners and being aware of the symptoms listed above.  Listen to your gut feelings if they tell you that something isn’t right.  Most people try to second guess themselves when their first reaction was correct. If you suspect that a client may have Munchausen by Proxy you can alert your local animal cruelty organization. Munchausen by Proxy is a form of cruelty. It is better to be safe than sorry.

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A way to preserve a loved one’s ashes

I have boxes of ashes from quite a few of my pets. Because we move so often, I did not want to bury them and then have to leave the ashes behind. I investigated a pet cemetery and the cost was prohibitive. Then I came across another option for those of us who have lost a beloved pet, or a family member.

The ashes can be incorporated into a beautiful glass object. It can be any type of object that you wish, something for the mantel, desk, dresser, curio cabinet or even a piece of jewelry. The size, shape and colors are limitless. The process does not require a lot of ashes, so you can scatter, bury or spread most of the ashes and keep some in a glass object. I hope this will help some of my followers. Glasslight Studios can send the glass anywhere in the world.

For more information contact, Glasslight Studios, PO Box 310, St. Peters, PA, 19470, or email them at glasslightstudio.com@gmail.com or go to www.glasslightstudio.com

The photos are examples of some of the objects that they have made.

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Lifelong learning is important for old dogs and cats

We know that it is critical for humans to learn new things and keep their mind active as they age. It goes a long way to help our minds from deteriorating and creates positive emotions helping to stave off depression.

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The same is true for our dogs and cats as they age. Unfortunately physical limitations may keep an older dog or cat from participating in physical activities or even being physically unable to learn new tricks. However, Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have developed a form of K9  “sudoku” to help old dogs stay mentally active.

Using a computer touch screen, they have developed a reward-based brain teaser. Once the dogs learn to use the touch screen the ones tested became avid computer gamers. The success of the project in the laboratory has led researchers to hope that industry will be motivated to develop the touch screen games for home use.

In the meantime, dog owners and cat owners (cats have the same mental needs as dogs) can set up treat puzzles or interactive games for their pets. There are some on the market that work well. You can google “treat puzzles for dogs or cats” to find them.

The main thing is to keep your aging pets mentally active. It will enrich their lives and keep their normal skills sharp.

Hypoallergenic pets and children

In the past, researchers have determined that children who have a pet dog or cat, or those who live in rural areas around livestock, have less of a chance to develop asthma and allergies to pets.

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A recent study conducted by Tove Fall, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Sciences — Molecular Epidemiology at Uppsala University, who led the study with Professor Catarina Almqvist Malmros at Karolinska Institutet showed some interesting results.

They determined that the sex of the dog was a factor in reducing an allergic reaction in children. It seems that children who lived with female dogs and more than one dog in the home had less allergies.

They also found that children who lived with the breeds and mixes of dogs that are supposed to be ‘hypoallergenic’ actually had a higher percent of allergies. That the hypoallergenic dogs were not better for children.

A child will benefit the most from having a pet in the home if they are raised the first year of their life with the pet.

The fact that the hypoallergenic breeds are not really hypoallergenic is especially important information for those parents who may be considering a dog for their child who has allergies.

Many people are duped into paying high prices for supposed hypoallergenic designer mixes and breeds that are labeled as hypoallergenic. No matter what the mixed breed is supposedly mixed with, it is still a mixed breed with no proof that it is what the breeder claims to be. I have personally seen many cases where the supposed mix of Goldendoodle or Labradoodle grow up to have the characteristics of a completely different breed. In some cases DNA tests showed the dog was not what it was claimed to be.

Although more research needs to be done, it appears that getting a female dog of the breed that you want is the best course of action. If you plan to start a family, get the dog first. Have the dog trained by the time you start the family. It will make the situation much easier and benefit the children that join your family.

Arthritis in Cats

Many people do not realize that cats suffer from arthritis. We are used to our cats being very athletic and supple. However, feline arthritis affects 80 to 90% of all cats. About 33% of younger cats develop arthritis, so it is not limited to older cats.

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Because cats can hide pain very well, it is prudent that a cat owner understand and look for the various signs that indicate your cat is developing or has arthritis.

Here are the warning signs:

  1. You cat cannot jump up or down or is reluctant to do it.
  2. General stiffness
  3. Difficulty getting up when they are laying down.
  4. Personality change such as not wanting to be held or petted like they used to.
  5. If your cat does not groom himself as much. This could be a sign that it is                                 painful to reach parts of his body.
  6. If your cat tends to hide whereas he did not before. Pain can cause a cat to want to               hide.
  7. Your cat may sleep more than normal.
  8. Loss of appetite.
  9. A cat may stop using the litter box because it is painful to do so.
  10. You may notice that your cats’ muscles are atrophied.

If you see any of the signs listed above, you must take your cat to your veterinarian for a checkup. Some of these signs could also be due to another type of illness.

Arthritis is not a clear-cut issue. There are different types of arthritis and they can have different causes, from infection to injury. Therefore it is critical that your veterinarian determines if your cat has arthritis, the type of arthritis your cat has and how to treat it.

Clicker Training a Cat

Yes, cats can be trained. This article will explain why you should train your cat. Since it would take a whole book to explain the detailed steps about how to clicker train your cat, I suggest that you google clicker training for cats and get a book.

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Photo caption: “You want me to do what?”

Why would a cat owner want to train their cat? There are a lot of reasons. First, it can give you control over your cat. Imagine if you have taught your cat to get into his carrier, how much easier it would be to do that. Cats like the stimulation that learning gives them. Teaching your cat tricks also deepens the bond between you and your cat. It encourages your cat to exercise. It gives the cat mental stimulation. Clicker training your cat also gives you a tool to use if your cat develops a behavior problem so that you can correct the problem.

The first step to clicker training a cat is to find the special treat that your cat likes. Keep in mind that a treat is not a meal, so it will be small. You will have to experiment with people food as well as various cat treats to find the one your cat loves. The treat has to be something that you can handle easily and either comes in a small size or can be cut into tiny pieces. You do not want a treat that the cat must stop and chew for a few minutes. It should be one that the cat can easily eat quickly.

Often people do not realize that there are different clickers that range from loud to soft clicks. I suggest that you use a soft click for a cat. You can also use a click type pen, but it is not as easy to use as a clicker.

You also need a target stick and instead of buying an expensive one, you can use a ¼” dowel that is found in hardware stores, stores that carry lumber or craft stores.

Once you have all the equipment that you need, you can start working with your cat. Start slowly, getting the cat used to the clicker. Once the cat understands that the clicker is a signal for a treat, you can start teaching the cat simple commands. You can have a few sessions in a day but be sure to keep the training sessions very short. Cats get bored quickly. It is important that you work with your cat in a quiet environment. Your cat must be relaxed and feel safe. If you have more than one cat or a dog, be sure to train your cat alone in a room where the other animals cannot get in. If you have more than one cat, only work with one at a time. It can help if you have a different clicker for each cat, it will help them understand that you are clicking only them.

The last bit of advice that I have for you is be patient and don’t give up. Initially older cats may slow to respond, but they too should be taught tricks. Have fun, you cat will.

The way you feed your cat can affect its health

How your feed your cat is an often-overlooked aspect of stress and health related issues. This was addressed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). They released a Consensus Statement titled, “Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing” which was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. A brochure is available for practitioners to give to clients.

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According to the brochure, it is important to allow cats to experience normal feeding behaviors, such as hunting and foraging, a well as eating frequent, small meals by themselves. By meeting a cat’s feeding needs, you will help alleviate or prevent stress-related issues. Stress can cause cystitis and over-eating problems. If indoor cats are not given enough activity, eating can become their main activity leading to obesity.

Multi-cat households must insure that some of the resident cats who are shy are getting enough food which can lead to health problems as well.

The report goes on to stress that each household should evaluate the needs of the cats in the home. Some solutions could be to include offering small, frequent meals, puzzle feeders or putting food in different locations and even including automatic feeders.

It a cat has mental or physical issues, it is important to consider the cat’s feeding program to see if that is a contributing factor.