CHICAGO, IL -- Do cats truly prefer covered litter boxes? Can military working dogs suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome, similar to people, and if so, are some dogs more at risk than others? Can wearing a tight-fighting garment (called a Thundershirt) alleviate stress in cats as it might in dogs?
These are among the many questions answered at the 2013 Veterinary Behavior Symposium, held July 13 in Chicago, in conjunction with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (just prior to the 150th Annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association).
Grigg said, "Some individual cats have preferences for one box type or the other supports the treatment recommendation of offering cats with behavioral elimination disorders a litter box 'cafeteria,' to establish whether such a preference exists." In other words, ask your cat, 'What do you prefer?'
Not so surprisingly, the larger cats in Grigg's study (who presumably require more 'elbow room') did prefer uncovered boxes. Grigg noted that this was only a start, with a small sampling of 28 cats enrolled in the study.
--Applied animal behaviorist Jessica Lockhart followed 14 kittens, periodically assessing their temperaments. Previously, some experts had suggested that adult personality can be predicted in kittens as young as 8 weeks.
Lockhart learned that kitten temperament doesn't begin to establish itself until about 12 weeks. Remarkably, there's little significant temperament difference from 12 weeks through two years.
While this study confirms that kitten temperament at 12 weeks is important to consider, it reveals that 8 weeks is too early to make a personality prediction.
--Soldiers aren't the only combat veterans who can suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome. So can military working dogs (MWD), according to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Walter Burghardt, Jr., retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. While the topic has been discussed within the military, and written about, Burghardt's is the first scientific study to follow military working dogs.
Labrador Retrievers are over-represented among dogs identified with posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome, according to Burghardt. Labs made up about half of the cases in his study, though they are only 15 percent of the MWD population. Seeking improvised explosive devices (IUD's) must be especially stressful. Dogs specifically trained to locate IUD's comprised 60 percent of the cases Burghardt investigated but only 20 percent of the MWD population.
Burghardt said PTSD likely occurs in about five percent of deployed MWDs. This may not sound significant, but presumed PTSD is now the most common reason for dogs leaving the program. If not diagnosed, these dogs may place their handlers, other soldiers and themselves at risk.
Burghardt noted that treatments have included using human antidepressants, various other drugs, behavioral enrichment and desensitization, and counter-conditioning. With treatment, approximately half of the identified patients were able to return to service. MWDs not successfully treated were transferred to other working service or adopted as pets.
--Certified cat behavior consultant Janet Velenovsky presented the case study of a 15-year-old cat named Griffin who was very nervous about veterinary visits. He would urinate in his carrier during transport, had a rapid heartbeat and was difficult for clinic staff to handle. The objective of the study was to learn if a Thundershirt made for cats might help ease Griffin's anxiety
The Thundershirt is a compression wrap, fitting like a sweater, originally manufactured for dogs who fear thunderstorms or have other anxiety issues. There are lots of case studies which demonstrate that the Thundershirt may help lessen or even completely alleviate anxiety in dogs.
There's now a commercially available Thundershirt made for cats, which Velenovsky reported worked for Griffin. Wearing a Thundershirt, he was calm enough for staff to easily draw blood, he didn't have an accident in his carrier and wasn't nearly as vocal as usual. Also, Griffin appeared more like "himself" when he returned home, instead of hissing, hiding and skipping meals.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)