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EATING BEHAVIOURS - CATS
(source Small Animal Clinical Nutrition by Hand et al)
Consumption of excreta, is a normal behaviour in queens with kittens less than 30 days of age. The queen stimulates the kitten’s urogenital reflexes and elimination by grooming the kitten’s perineum. Then, the queen consumes the products of elimination. This process is important as an aid to elimination in young kittens. In addition, coprophagia maintains sanitation and reduces odours in the nest box. It is very uncommon for cats to continue coprophagia after the kittens have weaned.
CANNIBALISM / INFANTICIDE
Cannibalism or infanticide is often normal behaviour in male and female cats. Queens typically cannibalize aborted, dead and weak kittens. This behaviour may serve to reduce the spread of disease to healthy kittens, conserve maternal resources and optimize survival of the most fit kittens and help keep the nest box clean. Occasionally, queens will kill an apparently healthy litter. Environmental factors that cause kittens to mimic early signs of illness (inactivity, hyperthermia, or hypothermia) may trigger infanticide and cannibalism. Maternal stress, malnourishment and hormonal insufficiency may contribute to unexplained cannibalism as well. Maternal experience or parity does not appear to play a role.
Tomcats may indiscriminately kill unrelated kittens. A queen rapidly returns to estrus after the loss of its kittens. Infanticide optimizes a males genetic potential, in that it now has an opportunity to sire subsequent litters. Infanticide is an uncommon behaviour by resident male cats.
The health status, dietary management and husbandry practices should be reviewed in queens or catteries experience persistent problems with cannibalism. Males should not have access to young kittens to reduce the chance of infanticide. Although resident male cats rarely pose a problem, it is prudent to err on the side of safety.
PLANT AND GRASS EATING
Plant and grass eating is a natural behaviour of cats. A variety of explanations have been advanced fro grass eating. Because grass is not digested within the cat’s gastrointestinal tract, it acts as a local irritant and sometimes stimulates vomiting. Thus, grass eating may serve as a purgative to eliminate hair or other indigestible material. However, many cats readily eat grass but do not vomit. Other explanations for the behavior include a response to nutritional deficiencies, boredom or a taste preference. Despite the numerous theories, scientific support is lacking and the cause remains unknown.
RESPONSE TO CATNIP
The smell or ingestion of catnip can invoke wild behaviour for five to 15 minutes after exposure. Cats may become refractory for an hour or more after cessation of the initial response. The active ingredient is thought to act as a hallucinogen although stimulation of neurologic centers associated with estrous behaviours has also been suggested. Cats may respond to catnip by head rubbing and shaking, salivating, gazing, skin twitches, rolling and animated leaping. Prolonged exposure may lead to a chronic state of partial unawareness.
A commonly reported behavioural abnormality in cats is wool chewing. The behaviour first appears near puberty when cats begin to lick, suck, chew or eat wool or other clothing articles. Although the cause is poorly understood, nutritional deficiencies are unlikely. Affected cats may be seeking the odour of lanolin or human sweat or the behaviour may be a manifestation of prolonged nursing. Siamese, Burmese and their crosses are primarily affected. Therefore, a strong genetic link is probably. Wool chewing is managed by limiting acces to attractive items and through behavioural modification. Feeding a high fibre food or providing continuous supply of dry food reduces fabric eating in some cats
Prolonged nursing may occur in kittens that strive to satisfy a desire for non-nutritional suckling. Non-nutritional suckling normally subsides near weaning. Kittens may develop nursing vices when they are deprived of normal nursing behaviour because they were orphaned, prematurely weaned or required bottle feeding. Within the litter, kittens will often nurse tails, ears, skin folds and or the genitalia of their litter mates. After a kitten is separated from its litter, it may transfer sucking vices to people, stuffed toys, clothing or other pets.
Although a few days of inappetence is not particular detrimental to an otherwise healthy cat, prolonged inanition results in malnutrition, reduce immune function and increased risk of hepatic lipidosis. Anorexia may be caused by stress, unacceptable foods or concurrent disease. Most commonly, cats presented to veterinarians for anorexia have a concurrent disease. Cats may endure prolonged starvation rather than eat poorly palatable food. Therefore, advising owners that a cat will eat when it gets hungry enough can have deadly results.
A thorough history is useful in differentiating potential causes of anorexia. To determine if poor food acceptance is the cause, offer a small selection of highly palatable foods along with the typical food. Because improperly stored foods may develop off flavors, bacterial contamination or fungal growth confirms that the product is fresh and wholesome. Environmental or emotional factors reported to result in stress mediated anorexia include hospitalization, boarding, travel, introduction of new people or pets to the household loss of a companion, overcrowding, high temperatures or excessive handling. Stress mediated anorexia is usually diagnosed from the history and ruling out other diseases. Providing a quiet secluded area will often allow a cat to relax sufficiently enough o begin eating. Often, increasing the foods palatability will improve food intake. Food palatability can be enhanced by warming, adding water or choosing foods high in animal protein and fat. If cats are highly stressed or appropriate feeding sites are unavailable mild tranquilizers or appetite stimulants may be beneficial. Force feeding may stimulate taste receptors and appetite in some cats. Other cats find the process so stressful that the benefits are outweighed by the additional stress.
FIXED FOOD PREFERENCES
The food type fed by the owner during a kittens first six months influences the pattern of food preferences throughout life. Although uncommon, kittens exposed to a very limited number of foods may develop a food fixation, refusing to eat anything but a single food. Adults fed highly palatable single item foods have been reported to develop fixed food preferences as well.
Cats with food fixations can be particularly troublesome if dietary modifications are necessary. Cats with strong food preferences should be transitioned to a new food over a prolonged period. Convert to the desired food by replacing 10 to 20% of the old food with an equal amount of the new food on day one gradually increasing ratio of new to old over the next 14 days. A more gradual transition may be required if food intake drops below 70% of maintenance levels. Cats should be monitored to ensure they are not selecting the preferred food and that food intake remains adequate. Food fixations can be avoided by feeding cats a complex commercial food and not feeding single food items.
LEARNED TASTE AVERSIONS
Cats may develope learned aversions to certain food when feeding is paired with a negative GI experience. The negative experience can be physical, emotional or physiologic. Typically aversions occur when a cat is fed before an episode of nausea or vomiting. Foods that were readily consumed before the subsequent incidence will then be avoided. Clinically aversions may develop when GI upset is induced by various diseases, drugs or treatment protocols. Foods with high salience (high protein levels or strong odours) are more likely to become aversive and should not be fed within 24 hours of anticipated GI upsets. Aversions have been documented to last up to 40 days in some cats. Learned aversions are considered an adaptive response. By avoiding foods that previously caused gastric distress, cats will avoid eating foods likely to be spoiled or tainted. Learned aversions have also been suggested to reduce repeated bouts of food allergy. Although this response may occur when feeding single food items it does not appear to be of particular benefit to cats fed commercial foods.
In the event that your cat signs of discomfort or is not its usual self we do recommended that your cat is presented to us at the earliest, to prevent the problem progressing and causing other complications. Early recognition and treatment means that your pet will recover sooner, and will therefore be far more comfortable. It is not only significantly more difficult to treat a pet in an advanced stage of the disease, as well as far more expensive, but one also has to take into account the significant pain and stress your pet is under by not being treated at the earliest.
We sincerely recommend that you please call us on 1300-838-738 (1300-VET-PET) to schedule an appointment at the earliest. We do not believe in berating our clients for presenting the pets late, as we believe that this is counter productive. It is not our intention to cause you any embarrassment, offence or anxiety. Our approach is now that you have presented your pet to us, how do we go forward from here, not only keeping your pet’s welfare at heart, but also working with your wishes and limiting factors. We do approach all cases presented to us with a level of sensitivity. As pet health care professionals we will present our assessment and treatment in a professional manner and factually as possible.
You may not be aware that in older pets multiple problems often arise as aging affects all body systems. As pets age they become increasingly vulnerable to diseases. The three leading causes of non accidental death in pets are cancer, kidney disease and heart disease. Older animals seldom suffer from a single disease. One problem may markedly influence the course of another. Ageing is characterised by progressive and irreversible change. Pets are likely to start having diseases associated with ageing between 7 and 13 years. Smaller dogs tend to live longer than large dogs. The quality and length of life of older pets can be improved through regular health checks (every 6 months). A thorough clinical examination will help define some of these problems.
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