An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Play Therapy for Anxious, Spraying Cat

Dear Readers,
My advice to Indy the long-term spraying cat continues. So far we've covered the issues of discipline, of medication, and of cleaning and dealing with his most recent pee spots. There will be more cleaning tips later. But today I want to discuss anxiety-reduction measures, starting with play therapy.

Dear Indy,

We can all agree that you are an anxious cat. And that is one of the reasons you have been on medication. But there are additional ways to deal with anxiety. You need to start incorporating them into your repertoire for two reasons. First they will help build your resilience to stress and thus lower you usual anxiety level. Second when you are no longer on medication, these will be the ways you can manage your anxiety.

Feliway (diffuser and spray) is one such management technique that deals with anxiety-reduction through the use of synthetic facial pheromones to give you a sense of comfort in an area. It also helps to manage the olfactory cues which entice you to re-spray. And I've already made some recommendations about this in my previous posting.

The next set of recommendations deal with providing you adequate intellectual and physical stimulation.

As a Siamese you are a particularly intelligent member of our species. You need to have your intellect satisfied or you become bored. Physical stimulation helps manage your arousal levels - part of our predatory inheritance that, most especially for indoor cats, is often ignored and does become a key factor in the development of behavioural problems.

Simply put, not getting adequate opportunities for daily predatory stimulation means that your arousal levels rise, cannot be held in check and so you become more and more reactive. It's stressful and you start to have problems coping.

Intellectual Stimulation

While you can get this kind of stimulation along with the physical kind, I was to separate them out for a moment to demonstrate what I mean by intellectual stimulation. Quite simply I mean the chance to exercise your brain - to plan, to think and to learn.

There is a considerable difference in brain development between feral and indoor cats; frankly the latter are far more intelligent because they must plan and learn on a daily basis - or they will not manage to survive. The pampered existence of an indoor cat leads to cortical flab - we sit around, bat the occasional toy and walk over to the food dish as needed. No challenge there. No opportunity to learn. Just a way to let brain rot set in, and with it, a truncated set of coping skills and boredom.

This is not good. This leads to such lovely things as obesity (eating out of boredom), self-mutilation, fighting (just to get some challenge in life), and depression. These are not on the list of things I'd like to receive as gifts - yet they are too often given by well-meaning caregivers who are so busy with their own lives that they think we cats can survive solely on kibble, water, the odd mouse toy and some lap time. Sorry, but it ain't so!

In the busy household, one of the easiest ways to provide for intellectual stimulation is through food puzzles. After all we all have to eat. But in this case, you get to work for all or a portion of your food. (I'd start with a portion, first.)

The simplest bought food puzzle is a treat ball into which kibble is put. You have to move it around for pieces to fall out the holes. And as you get good at it, Themselves can adjust the openings so it is more difficult to remove the pieces - making you have to think how best to get them out. Several are available including the  Slim Cat treat ball by PetSafe, the  Cat Wobbler by Kong and the Wobbler and the Design Sense Treat Maze by Hagen (Catit).

The least expensive puzzles are ones made at home. Homemade Food Puzzle is a site with several ideas. For example, from an empty toilet roll you purrson can: 1) make holes in its sides (with a punch or craft knife) large enough for kibble to fall out of, 2) tape one end of the cylinder shut with masking tape, 3) then put some kibble in the cylinder and tape the other end shut.

 The next level up is a more complex device, like a block puzzle where you have to figure out where in the puzzle the kibble pieces have been hidden. First developed for dogs, they are now used with great success by fellow felines - even if some of their web pages are filled with dog stuff. Brands like Nina Ottosson and Trixie are available through some supply stores.

Interactive Play

Physical Stimulation by which I mean a workout is sort of like going to the gym. Once you have gone beyond kittenhood, you depend on play with others to get this form of exercise. Sure you can play on your own, but interactive play is much more stimulation because it simulates real-life predation. For this to work, you need another cat companion (with whom you get along) of a similar energy level. Or you need interactive play with your purrsons. There are three problems with this:

First, the purrson selects toys for such sessions which are poorly made and unattractive from a feline point of view - either because they are less expensive, or more easily available, or because said purrson just doesn't know any better.
The second problem is that most purrsons don't know how to play. They just dangle the toy in front of you. If you are starved for play, chances are you will bat at it. But it does not simulate predation. It simulates defense.

Tell me, how many cats box with their prey in the hunt? My point, exactly. But if you watch so-called cute cat videos or even cat commercials, you will see cats playing this way (to show off the toy, not to show proper cat play) and so your purrsons get the impression that this is what is required. Indy, your purrsons need education in this matter, about how to set up the hunting ground in the first place and then how to help you hunt.

The third problem and in my opinion one of the most recalcitrant to address is that purrsons say they are too busy. Now if we do the math and ask them, "Do you have 15 minutes a day to play with your cat? Would you rather spend the time playing with your cat or cleaning up spray marks? How inexpensive and timely is it to keep said cat on expensive medications because you have not enabled him to have other, acceptable outlets for anxiety?" they get embarrassed and offer all sorts of excuses.

At this point, they decide to use a laser pointer. It is easy for them to use, takes the absolute minimum effort on their part (while they watch TV) and they figure on giving you a good workout. Tell them to think again. It can be a recipe for long-term frustration on your part - exactly what you do not need.

Instead, my dear, refurr to my brand-new PAGE called Interactive Play Therapy. It is located at the TOP of my blog, beside "HOME". Just click on it and it will come.

Read it. And do it! Trust me: It will make a big difference to your life.

Let the games begin!