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Norwich Bulletin - 8/8/2010

Cats And Their Habits

Some cats have the strangest habits. Do you ever find your feline chewing or sucking on wool, cotton or other fabrics? Or maybe he even likes to chew plastic even more. Chewing disorders can result in some serious medical complications if your cat ends up swallowing something foreign, so it is important that the minute you notice weird habits you start to do something about it.

In cats, excessive chewing and sucking is just one of the strange habits some cats pick up. There is also hunting and pouncing at unseen prey, running and chasing, paw shaking, tail chasing or foot chewing, and severe over grooming that could lead to your cat companion pulling out its own fur and chewing himself raw. There may actually be genetic predisposition to some of these behaviors. For example, wool and sock sucking, is more common in Oriental breeds of cats.

The diagnosis begins by having your vet rule out or treat possible underlying medical causes. Since a variety of medical problems - including painful conditions, neurological diseases and dermatologic disorders can cause many of these signs - an extensive diagnostic workup may be needed to rule out underlying medical problems. If your cat is exhibiting self-injurious behaviors such as tail mutilation or alopecia, a dermatologic workup might include diagnostic tests on the blood and skin, as well as perhaps medication or diet trials to rule out food allergies, parasites or other bothersome conditions.

One of the treatments that seem to be immediately in order would be a steroid shot to stop the itching and compulsive behavior and give it time so the cat forgets about the self destructive behaviors it was doing. Also on the agenda would be to spend some quality time with your cat. Interactive play, grooming and petting may sooth your cat enough to start the behavior changes necessary to promote the good health of your pet.

One of the most common ailments in cats is Alopecia or hair loss. This happens when cats over groom and remove fur. Over Grooming can take the form of excessive licking, or pulling out tufts of hair. The diagnosis of Psychogenic Alopecia as a compulsive disorder is reserved for those cases in which no underlying medical problem is evident. Cats normally are fastidious groomers and as much as 30 - 50% of the time they are awake is spent performing some type of grooming behavior.

As with other compulsive disorders, Feline Psychogenic Alopecia may begin as a displacement behavior arising from situations of conflict, frustration or anxiety, but might in time become compulsive. Thatís why increasing interactive play with their humans (chase toys, training) and increasing environmental stimulation (play centers, chew toys, food or catnip packed toys, kitty videos) should help calm your cat as well as give him something interesting to do while you are out of the house. In order to keep toys novel and enticing, they should be changed every day. Include food-filled and treat-filled toys and those that can be batted or chased and remember that cardboard boxes and paper bags are always an interesting and new challenge to your fur babies.

Conflict and anxiety induced over grooming might also be treated with antihistamines, anxiolytic drugs or Feliway, In some cases allowing the cat some quiet time away from other household animals may be needed if there are conflicts between cats as that could be a contributing factor. My Abyssinians are prone to alopecia and besides the steroid treatment I lather a cream called Mega-tek on the chewed parts of their bodies. This is used to increase hair growth in horses and it works great on cats to bring back their coat. And the bonus for humans is it smells like a Polynesian fruit salad.

We have all seen our cats play with their tails and thought how cute they are. But some cats will chase and even viciously attack their tails. This may arise as a form of play, especially if there is a lack of sufficient routine and stimulation, and may escalate to a more serious problem because of its consequences. If the cat manages to catch and bite his own tail, the problem may progress to more serious damage and mutilation. The painful and infected tail may have to be amputated, but this does not in any way cure the cause of the behavior. So again, play routines, and providing daily interactions and attention are useful in the treatment of tail chasing.

You can help your cat in many different ways. For instance, if your cat craves crunch, remove the wool or plastic pacifier and offer it dry food, lettuce or whole baby carrots. Or, provide alternative oral stimulation in the form of rawhide soaked in chicken broth or other dog chew treats. Check with your veterinarian for safe suggestions. Or create a window box filled with catnip, wheat grass and other items designed to lure your wool muncher away from the offending items.

Bored cats are destructive cats. Cat owners often forget that their cats evolved as turbo-charged hunters who climbed, crept, leapt and raced in pursuit of fast food. Use cat activity centers and interactive toys to keep their minds keen. You can also make eating more interesting and natural by hiding small amounts of food in a variety of locations that require your cat to search for the food.

Many house cats do not like change. They prefer things like household members, furniture, litterboxes, food, and so on, to remain status quo, if you can, redirect the inappropriate behavior. For example, if your cat is chewing on plastic, substitute a treat or playtime. The more you redirect the behavior, the better chance you have of keeping it at bay. So be in tune with your feline friend and you can improve the quality of his life and yours as well!

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