Behavior Bytes | Oct 2012
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
09:38 AM, Thursday, October 18
Well, besides “whiskers on kittens,” my favorite cat behaviors include:

Purring The purr is made by rapid vibration of the pharynx and not by the vocal chords. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most wonderful sounds on this planet.  Some cats purr more than others. Some purr louder, and each cat has its own distinctive sound. Some drool while they purr and others knead with their front feet.

Entertainment Play is serious business in young animals and cats are no exception. From the moment they open their eyes and start to walk, they learn about who they are, who everyone else is, what they can get away with, how to get away from danger, and all the ins and outs of their environment.  I love to watch kittens bouncing stiff-legged with back arched BOING BOING BOING and I really get a hoot when I see kittens of all ages ricocheting off the walls and furniture in a game of chase with a real or imaginary friend, don’t you? Just don’t forget to cat proof your home and get out of the way!

Free Facials Some cats groom us almost as enthusiastically as they groom themselves. With their sandpapery tongues, they remove old hair and debris to leave their coats shiny and clean. The thing is that our skin is thinner and less hairy than theirs; after a few licks in the same place it can really become irritating. Make small adjustments in your position to rotate the contact surface. Before you know it, you’ll have been exfoliated for far less and with much more love than any esthetician or dermatologist!

On the other hand…

Although purring is most often associated with comfort and pleasure, it is also heard in cats who are in pain or dying.  Monitor your pet’s health and behavior closely. If there are any changes in either physical appearance, appetite or behavior, bring these to the attention of your primary care veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will know if your pet needs to be referred to a specialist. It’s always easier to treat problems when they first appear, and your cat will thank you for it.

Play can be an important measure of general health. Cats who lose their playfulness may be unwell. Are they not playing because they have pain? Do they have a fever? Are they anxious or depressed?  A decrease or change in a cat’s playfulness can be an important indication that they need professional evaluation.

Finally, licking behavior can become excessive in some cats. This can arise from anxiety (such as separation anxiety syndrome) or compulsivity (psychogenic or compulsive licking). Cats are normally fastidious about hygiene, but if your cat grooms herself to the point of causing hair loss or skin lesions, there’s a problem. If your cat stops grooming itself and begins to look shabby and unkempt, there’s a problem that deserves immediate attention, too. Underlying health issues as well as psychosocial stressors can cause changes in normal grooming patterns. Always discuss any potential problems with your veterinarian or veterinary specialist.

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