A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

Source: freeimages

We’ve all been there. Its time to give a cat  his or her medication.  You take a deep breath and give yourself a little pep talk. But  the pep talk is not quite enough so you delve into some physical warm ups – a few jumping jacks, a few lunges, you know… getting ready to engage with “ the cat”.  You have the medicine out, you have your eyes on the cat, and you are all warmed up and ready to go! You tell yourself  “I’ve got this! “

Fast forward 4 seconds…. 
                    Human: 0     Cat: 1
Deep breath…you will try again later but this time with gardening gloves on or maybe a towel. Right?!?  Stop right there. There are easier ways…I promise.  While there is no one way that will work for every kitty, we can usually find solutions for the vast majority of them.  

This post will talk about one simple thing all cat owners, cat fosters, cat rescue, veterinarians, pet sitters, shelter workers etc….can do to make giving cats medications and nail trims much easier, less stressful, and more humane for all involved. The earlier in the cat’s life these strategies are used, the more successful they will likely be. 

Here are the two things you need:
1. A syringe or popsicle or kitty kong (in other words, a device to hold food)
2. Food that will go in a syringe, kong, or on a popsicle that the kitten/cat really likes. 
Our personal favorite at the Animal Behavior Clinic in New Jersey is baby food! Other options to try would be whip cream, tuna/sardine juice, pureed meat, and canned kitten food. It must be something the kitty really likes. Take time to do some taste testing. If none of the above entices your kitty, try getting pure bites cat treats (http://www.purebites.com)  or fish flakes and sticking them to a popsicle stick with peanut butter and use the popsicle stick instead of a syringe. For nail trims, we personally like syringes because  you can control when and how much food to give with more ease and precision when necessary. 

Start getting your kitty used to eating something yummy out of the syringe with NO STRINGS  ATTACHED. That means, you are not giving medication or doing a nail trim. You are simply teaching your cat that when this syringe comes out, good things happen! We want kitties to run to you when they see the syringe.  If this is part of their life routine, it will make your life much easier. When you are first doing this, try to do it every day for a week, then a couple times a week and then  a few times  a month. Now you have a helpful tool. 

If they need medication that is a liquid ( or can be compounded into a liquid) you can just mix it right into the syringe with food. For those of you who did not know, most compounded liquid medications can be doubled  flavored which can be helpful. 
Click the link below to see Liberty Humane staff using the syringe method to administer antibiotics to kitties in a shelter setting  that have upper respiratory infections.  Super easy on everyone!!! 

If you are lucky to have a very food motivated kitty, you can just feed them while trimming their nails…
Click the link below to see a video of some kittens that were being fostered by our  behavior tech, Deb Edwards. No training or prep involved in this video. This was literally the video of them having their nails trimmed for the first time and the first time with being fed baby food out of a syringe. This was done on their first day of being dropped off in the clinic. Their little nails were very sharp and needed attention ASAP to keep people from getting all scratched up. 

For cats that already have some fear associated with nail trims or getting medications, more advanced techniques may be needed. For that, please contact a veterinarian skilled in behavior protocols: a board certified veterinary behaviorist or an experienced qualified cat trainer.

This information is useless if it does not get into the hands of those working with cats, so please share this information with any cat person you know!
If any of you have  great ideas or strategies when working with kitties, please email them to [email protected] with the subject line being “cat tip”.  We love to disseminate good information and its it time cats got as much attention as dogs! 

Emily D. Levine DVM DACVB
Animal Behavior Clinic of AERAFairfield, NJ

You Are What You Eat

Source: Dr. Amy Learn DVM

I was contemplating this article while delivering eight dozen donuts to local hospitals thanking them for supporting my referral practice. As I was driving around, the heavenly smell of fresh, warm, sugary donuts surrounded me. It was then that I seriously wondered if I could live on donuts alone. Ok, maybe donuts and bacon…

Concerns about diet and nutrition are rapidly becoming more mainstream as we are bombarded with messages to eliminate processed foods, choose organic, be a strict vegan, or follow other dietary lifestyles. Consumers are also following those trends for their pets. Unfortunately, these choices may be based on the current popular craze, without scientific research, and could even potentially be harmful. The shelves of pet stores and veterinary offices are filled with supplements touted to increase health, vitality, memory, immune function and more. But is there actual science to support the use of these supplements? Can what we eat affect our emotional state or responses? Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients and how they affect behavior. Then we will target emotional responses to food.

One ingredient that is the topic of much debate is tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid used in the synthesis of proteins. It is also the precursor that our bodies use to make the neurotransmitter serotonin (your stress-relief neurotransmitter) and the hormone melatonin. It is most commonly found in oats, dairy products, eggs, red meat, fish, poultry, and some seeds and nuts. Tryptophan does not enter the brain easily because it must compete with other large amino acids absorbed from the diet to cross a little blockade called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). One study in dogs showed that a certain type of aggression called dominance aggression was significantly greater when the dogs were fed the higher protein diet. This might lead you to believe that feeding your dog a lower protein diet will make him happier but that is not actually the case, and if you feed him only donuts he will get very sick.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids 
Some of the behavior disorders we see in animals may be the result of maternal malnutrition. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my doctor advised me to increase my intake of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) to ensure proper development of my little babushka. Similarly, kittens and puppies who do not receive proper PUFA support do not develop normally, increasing the likelihood of retarded growth or mental capacity, and increased fear or aggression. In addition, if the mother doesn’t receive proper amounts of protein in her diet, puppies may be more likely to be nervous and resistant to handling. 

It is clear that PUFAs are essential for brain development of the fetus, but these natural anti-inflammatories are also recommended to increase memory, heart, skin, and joint health. In fact, high levels of fatty acids have been used successfully in several commercial and prescription diets including Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine b/d. In my daily practice, I can’t remember the last time a day went by that I didn’t recommend at least once that a client add fatty acids to their pet’s diet.

Another nutrient used in a therapeutic manner is fiber. As in,”we all need more fiber in our diet to stay regular”. Now, that completely goes against my donut and bacon plan, but may be healthier. Some of our feline friends suffer from a condition called pica (an appetite for nonfood items). Fiber supplementation is often used to treat this condition. 

Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
Aging is commonly associated with declined efficiency of glucose metabolism by the brain. Ketones provide an alternative energy source for the brain’s metabolic activities. In one study, dogs receiving an MCT supplemented diet showed significantly elevated levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate, a ketone body. These study results indicate that long-term supplementation with MCTs increases circulating levels of ketones and that this effect improves cognition. This is the premise behind Purina’s Prescription diet Neurocaretm which is formulated to nutritionally manage dogs with epilepsy and cognitive dysfunction.

Now that we have discussed that many nutrients can contribute to bodily health, let’s investigate how they can contribute to emotional health. At this point, I want to get back to my donut issue. There are many things that I may be apprehensive about doing in which having a donut may help me feel better about. This is one of the cornerstones of the Fear Freesm movement in veterinary medicine. How can we make a vet visit more fun and less stressful for the pet? Pediatric dentists have latched onto this paradigm shift with steel claws. My daughter has her teeth cleaned wearing princess sunglasses, watching the latest Disney movie on the screen above her head, and with a plethora of choices in toothpaste flavors. Afterwards, she gets a balloon and a coin for a special prize that she redeems at the check-out desk. Using food during veterinary visits to counter-condition (changing a negative emotional response to a positive emotional response) is essential. If children can love the dentist, our pets can love the vet. I consistently leave the exam room covered with peanut butter, cheese, freeze dried chicken crumbs, and dog saliva because my patients love coming to see me. (For more information about Fear Freesm veterinary visits, visit www.fearfreehappyhomes.com)  

Food, glorious food, is a very powerful tool whether you are talking about the health benefits or the emotional ones. Considering what nutrients go into our bodies and where they come from is an important consideration. Clearly, there are even more nutrients out therethat are pertinent to discuss so maybe we will catch up with each other another time.  For now, I have more donuts to deliver and miles to go before I sleep. Mmmmm, donuts. 

APDT Foundation Now Accepting 2018 Grant and Poster Proposals, Scholarship Applications  

APDT Foundation Now Accepting 2018 Grant and Poster Proposals, Scholarship Applications   The APDT Foundation is now accepting proposals for grants to conduct research in a field related to behavior analysis, ethology and cognition. There will be up to five grants awarded at $1,500. More information and a complete outline of the grant proposal process can…
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What Your Senior Cat Wishes You Knew

Source: Margaret Gruen

My cat, Ursa, is now 18 years old. She and I have lived together since she was 10 days old and brought in as a stray in Boston. While I may be biased, she is perhaps the greatest cat in the world. Several years ago, Ursa began showing signs of slowing down and stopped jumping up to the bathroom sink for a drink of water, a longstanding morning ritual for her. In fact, Ursa had changed how she was doing a bunch of things, but it was the change in this daily occurrence that made me finally take notice.

Cats are special companions, present in an increasing number of homes, and their long lifespan means they can be with us for many years. Often, they come in as rambunctious kittens and mature into regal adults. As they age into their golden years, however, cats may show decreased activity and mobility, coupled with changes in social behavior and mood. These changes in behavior are often chalked up old age, but, in fact, they may reflect a hidden cause: pain. A common painful condition in older cats is degenerative joint disease, or arthritis. In fact, over 90 percent of older cats will have evidence of degenerative joint disease and many will feel significant pain in one or more joints.

“Wait,” you say, “my older cat might sleep more than she used to, but she is not limping.”
Interestingly, while you may detect a change in the way your cat walks if you watch carefully, limping is not a prominent feature of arthritis in cats. Instead, you have to hunt for different signs:
Watch how she goes up or down the stairs—does she bunny hop or hesitate?
How about jumping up? Does he hesitate, or does he fail to clear the jump with his back legs?
What about jumping down? A cat with pain may reach way down before take-off, which seems to decrease the height of the jump, or may land with a thud.
Is he breaking his long leaps into smaller steps, like using the ottoman to get next to you on the couch, rather than just jumping from the floor to your lap?
While we can’t stop them from getting older, there are measures we can take to keep our cats healthy and active into their senior years.
Keep your cat engaged and active, including social interactions and opportunities for play. I often hear people say their cat doesn’t like to play anymore, but that may just mean they aren’t interested in the current offerings. Think outside the box by offering new (and often changing) interactive or food-dispensing toys.

Source: Margaret Gruen

Most important is acknowledging that pain might now be part of your cat’s daily life. If you suspect that this is true, ask your veterinarian about an evaluation and treatment options. Currently, there are fewer pain medications available for cats than for dogs, but options do exist and new ones are on the horizon. Pick one or more measurable signs your cat is exhibiting—such as willingness to jump up or down—that can help you evaluate whether a treatment is working.

People are often amazed by what their cats can still do (and still want to do!) when their pain is properly managed. For Ursa, it has meant a return to jumping up to the sink every morning for a quick drink. For now, she takes the jump from the floor, but I’m keeping that stool there just in case. 
Author: Margaret Gruen, DVM, PhD, DACVB

Fire Up Your Social Media Networks During Train Your Dog Month

Fire Up Your Social Media Networks During Train Your Dog Month It’s December already, so that means in just a few days it will be the start of APDT’s Train Your Dog Month (TYDM), which celebrates dogs and stresses the importance of canine training among pet professionals as well as modern families with four-legged members….
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Abnormal Behaviors Aren't Always Psychological

Two studies have identified gastrointestinal problems in dogs that licked surfaces excessively or engaged in fly biting behavior. Once the underlying problems were treated, the compulsive behavior in these dogs decreased or stopped altogether. These findings highlight the need to always check for medical conditions before concluding behavior problems are strictly psychological.

Source: Ilana Reisner, DVM, Ph.D., DACVB

As veterinary behaviorists we commonly see dogs exhibiting bizarre repetitive behaviors. Examples of repetitive behaviors seen in dogs include flank sucking, fly biting, light chasing, spinning, tail chasing, hind end checking, self-licking, and licking of objects or surfaces. These behaviors may be caused by compulsive disorders, which are described as repetitive, ritualistic behaviors that are performed excessively and interfere with normal daily activities.1Compulsive behaviors are often initially associated with situations that cause conflict or frustration and are later displayed in other situations when the dog is agitated or excited.2 They can occupy a large percentage of a dog’s day and negatively impact the quality of life.

Treatment for compulsive disorders has mostly focused on the use of antidepressant medications as well as behavior modification strategies to interrupt and redirect the behavior to a more appropriate activity. However, a thorough history and medical evaluation are essential before diagnosis and treatment. It is especially important to investigate for and treat any medical disorders that may be causing or contributing to the behavior. For example, two recent studies have shown that in the case of some oral compulsive disorders, there may be an underlying gastrointestinal (GI) problem.

The studies, by a group of researchers at the University of Montréal Veterinary Teaching Hospital, investigated medical causes for the excessive licking of surfaces and fly biting in dogs.3,4 This research suggests that at least some of these cases are related to medical issues causing nausea or discomfort, thus triggering the odd oral behaviors.

Excessive licking study
In this study, 19 dogs that displayed excessive licking of surfaces were compared with a control group of 10 healthy dogs.3 Complete medical and behavioral histories were collected for all dogs, and they all underwent physical and neurologic examinations. Each dog then underwent a series of tests that included an abdominal ultrasound, endoscopy, and biopsies of the stomach and upper intestine. Dogs in the licking group had been licking on average for 32 months, and 16 of the 19 dogs licked daily. The medical evaluation revealed that 14 of the 19 licking dogs had GI abnormalities, which included inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and, in one dog, a foreign object in its stomach. Treatment of the underlying GI disorder resulted in significant improvements in a majority of dogs. While no disorder was identified in five dogs in the licking group, four out of these five improved with the use of a hypoallergenic diet plus antacid or anti-nausea medication.

Fly biting study
This study evaluated seven dogs that had a history of daily “fly biting” behavior.4 Fly biting is defined as a syndrome in which a dog appears to be staring at something and suddenly snaps at it. This condition can be a form of a focal seizure but was otherwise assumed to be a compulsive disorder. Each dog in this study had complete medical and behavioral histories collected in addition to undergoing physical and neurologic examinations. All of the dogs were filmed during the behavioral assessment and for two hours after a meal to evaluate the fly biting behavior. Blood and urine testing were performed in all dogs, and if there was a history of GI signs, a complete GI evaluation was performed. The behavioral histories of these dogs revealed that the fly biting had been present from six days to four years prior to the study and that the behavior occurred from once daily to once every hour. The videos revealed that all dogs raised their heads and extended their necks prior to fly biting, which may suggest esophageal discomfort. All dogs in this study were diagnosed with a GI abnormality, and one dog was also diagnosed with Chiari malformation (a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal5). Six of the seven dogs responded to medical treatment alone, and the fly biting behavior stopped completely in four dogs. No anti-anxiety medications were administered with treatment for the GI issues.

Both studies reveal that GI disease can cause excessive licking or fly biting and that these behaviors were significantly reduced with appropriate treatment of the GI issues. However, the take-home message here is not that compulsive disorders with a primary behavioral cause do not exist. Rather, not all compulsive behaviors are strictly behavioral. If your dog or cat exhibits an abnormal repetitive behavior, bring him or her to your veterinarian for a medical evaluation. If possible, bring a video of the behavior to the appointment. The medical evaluation should include a physical and neurologic examination as well as bloodwork and urinalysis to investigate for several conditions that can be responsible for repetitive behaviors. Based on the findings of two studies above, if your dog licks excessively or fly bites, a thorough GI workup is also indicated. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may include a hypoallergenic diet, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antacids.

Kelly Ballantyne, DVM, DACVB, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine; www.behavior.vetmed.illinois.edu
John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants; www.chicagovetbehavior.com

Source: Kelly Ballantyne, DVM, DACVB

Source: John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB

Back to School for Your Pet: Let’s all Just Relax!

Source: Dr. Beth Strickler MS DVM DACVB

As you make back-to-school plans for the kids and slow down for the school buses, think about what you can do for your pet to help improve her world and keep her brain engaged. Has your pet learned anything new recently? How about teaching her to Relax? 
A portion of patients seen by behaviorists and trainers are under treatment and training for behaviors that may be considered “normal” behaviors.  But “normal” behaviors often interfere and collide with daily function in a home. These may be behaviors such as exuberant greeting behaviors, barking to announce visitors’ arrivals, jumping on furniture and counters, digging up flower gardens and many more. 

We spend an incredible amount of time teaching our dogs to do active behaviors (such as Sit, Down, Come, Shake), but we spend very little time teaching them behaviors that require them to be calm and relaxed. Humans have realized that relaxation is a skill that is best achieved through practice; it does not come naturally to most of us.  The same is often true for our pets. Many of the behaviors that test our bond with our pets can be replaced by behaviors that involve self-control and relaxation.

So how do we teach relaxation to our pets? Is it possible? Absolutely!  It is not only possible but can be enjoyable and possibly essential to your pet’s well-being.  Here is a technique that can be quickly and easily implemented.
Teach a Relax command:  Relax is an easy task to teach your dog and can often be accomplished in just a couple of short sessions.  It is typically taught to our patients in association with another stationary task such as Sit or Down to more easily facilitate the relaxation. Identify the situation (time and location) that works best for your pet.  

To begin to teach your pet Relax, ask her for a stationary command (such as Sit or Down).  Begin speaking to your pet in a soft voice until you see your pet relax, repeating a cue word such as Relax over and over.  You may see your pet relax her face, her body and start breathing more slowly – and even lie down. When you recognize that your pet is relaxed, immediately communicate that this state is what you want with a reward (such as a favorite treat or a good dog word).  If you are touching your dog during this training, be sure you are using long, slow strokes on her body instead of pats or scratches.  Think about your own breathing and calmness during this time as well. Take slow, deep breaths as you engage with your pet.  Over time, your dog may learn to respond to the Relax command by…relaxing!

Of course, always take an opportunity to reward relaxed behaviors when they occur naturally.  We often spend a significant amount of time paying attention to undesirable behaviors (and potentially accidentally rewarding them with attention).  Instead, be prepared with a stash of treats that can be given when you spontaneously see your pet engaged in a relaxed behavior.

Get started and have some relaxation time with your pet!
Beth Strickler MS DVM DACVB