With the blistering hot weather we’re all enjoying at the moment, who better to have as our special guest on Vet’s Klinic TV than the founder of the UK’s only iced treats for dogs company, Marie Sawle of Billy & Margot! And as if that wasn’t enough, I also decided to whip up a couple of recipes of my own to help dogs keep cool, with a frozen yoghurt delight for cats and a nutritious juice for dogs. Watch the show to find out what happened…(it is definitely worth a watching!)
First CatWatch Day findings show even devoted owners may miss signs of stress
Cats adjust their behaviour to communicate with humans, but few of us understand their efforts. Findings from the UK’s first CatWatch Day showed that cats were not ‘aloof’ but instead had a daily routine of activity with a repertoire of behaviours designed to maximise interaction with their owners. However, most of this is largely misunderstood according to Jon Bowen, animal behaviour consultant at Royal Veterinary College.
600 people participated in the study which involved observing their cat’s behaviour on 6th May 2013 and completing a quick online survey. Jon Bowen analysed the results:
“Cats try to interact with their owners as they would with another cat. This communication is much more subtle than we are used to and is often missed by owners. For example, a common greeting between cats is to blink at each other and then sit close but not touching. When cats do the same with their owners it is a powerful sign of trust and friendship. However, owners often expect physical contact as part of a greeting, and see this as a time to pick a cat up or cuddle it. Alternatively they may misinterpret the cat’s behaviour as a request for food rather than a demonstration of friendship.
“People often ask why a cat will initially sit on their lap, ‘wanting attention’ and then will bite them. In this case, the cat wants contact, but being stroked is considered too much to tolerate. The cat will either fend the owner off when it has had enough, or turn the interaction into a play-fight. Both are likely to result in biting and scratching. Results from CatWatch day suggest that this misunderstanding is quite common.”
Jon says that most communication is non-vocal and may include making brief eye contact, rubbing against you, or just wanting to sit and watch you. However, it isn’t just owners that misread these signals. Jon continues:
“People who are nervous of cats often wonder why cats always come to greet them. Interestingly this is because these people make brief eye contact with the cat and then look away; they avoid staring and don’t directly approach the cat. From a cat’s perspective this is a perfect invitation to come up and greet the person.”
Cats are also vocal, and use the same range of purrs, trills and miaows to communicate with their owners as they do with other cats. However, they have shown an amazing ability to adapt their vocalisations to have a greater impact on people.
“Interestingly, a recent academic paper* reported that some cats adjust their miaow to mimic that of a human infant’s distress cry. The study found that humans are highly sensitive to this sound, making it very difficult for them to resist a cat’s demands.”
The CatWatch study looked at the activity patterns of cats and found cats engaged in a 40% greater range of activities between 6 and 8 in the morning, which is also when owners are at home. During the day there was a period of rest, before activity started again in the evening. This suggests that cats modify their activity patterns to accommodate their owners’ lifestyle.
Jon says “Interestingly owners did not rate their cats as more active at any time of day so there is a discrepancy between what owners think of as ‘activity’, and what cats actually do.
“When we use the word ‘activity’, we tend to mean physical activity such as going to the gym. However an active cat can be quietly seeking out opportunities rather than just running around. This shows us that while a cat may not be physically active in the morning and evening, it is likely to be much more receptive to offers of play and interaction at these times.”
The study also has some important implications for the way we monitor our cat’s health.
Cats that are sick often don’t show any symptoms until the illness has developed and is quite severe. However, Jon says “If you are tuned into your cat’s routine it will be easier to spot a change in frequency of feeding, greetings, play and amount of time spent outside. The sooner we see these changes, the sooner we can investigate the cause.”
Stress is a cause of many health conditions for example skin conditions such as hair loss and itchy skin. Stress can in turn cause changes in behaviour such as spraying in the house, guarding the cat flap, and watching other cats through a window.
Recent research by the recent Neighbourhood Cat Campaign** showed 23% of owners reported intruder cats entering their home through an unsecured cat flap and fighting with the resident cat. Cats are territorial so invasion of their home is a significant source of stress which is not appreciated by many cat owners.
Jon continues, “The results from CatWatch Day show that even devoted cat owners may miss the signs that their pet is under stress and so are not taking measures to prevent it. It is important to not encourage or feed other cats in your home, and not to put food where it can be seen from outside. A selective entry cat flap is also beneficial in helping a pet feel secure.”
Vets have embraced many so-called ‘alternative’ forms of therapy, from acupuncture to herbal medications, but none generates more controversy than homeopathy. To its advocates homeopathy offers risk-free natural treatments that can offer solutions to long term health problems such as allergies, but to its detractors, homeopathy is little more than pseudoscience.
So what is the reality – does homeopathy work, and should vets be recommending it to their patients? Well from my perspective as a qualified vet who trained in evidence-based medicine the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic ‘no’. There is absolutely no credible, reliable, scientific evidence to suggest that homeopathy works – and even more damning is the complete lack of a theory to suggest how it might work. The best that the homeopathic community can come up with is that water some how holds a memory of other molecules and this can somehow confer beneficial effects to the patient. Quite how this mystical effect works is not described so we are left with what can only be described as a form of ‘faith healing’ – its practitioners have faith that it works, but no evidence or science to back up that faith.
This lack of science is then compounded by the assertion that homeopathy can do no harm – this is an illogical statement as anything that has the potential to do good by impacting on the biological systems in a living animal, surely has to have the potential to do harm? Either homeopathy works and has some effect, in which case it must have the potential to cause unwanted effects, or it simply does nothing – which is my view.
Personally I think homeopathy is utterly without any foundation and should be classed alongside other pseudosciences such as astrology which are also based on faith not reason. The problem though is that many vets don’t agree with this – and there is even a British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons and qualifications approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. These formal associations give homeopathy far more credibility than it desereves, and I believe that the veterinary community needs to take a stand and save pets and their owners from being effectively exploited by the homeopathy industry. I’m all for natural and alternative remedies, but only where there is real evidence that they work and are safe – and that is sadly not the case with homeopathy.
Let me know your views…
Yesterday’s show on Vet’s Klinic LIVE was quite something – the glamorous K9 Angels were on the show talking about their work rescuing dogs from around the world, and countering criticism that they should focus their energies on dogs in the UK. Interviewing them was quite a challenge as you’ll see from the video, but one thing certainly came across was their absolute passion and commitment to their cause. Oh, and their love of gold jackets! Watch the show and see for yourself…