Hills, Mich., -- A new study offers hope for kitties who cannot get along with housemate
It’s an agonizing and common problem that can drive cat owners to organize their lives around managing their cat’s aggression which may include seemingly random bouts of hissing, chasing and screaming. “Cats are the number one pet; 81.7 million owned cats versus 72 million owned dogs. Disharmony between pets is a common reason cats are relinquished to shelters and sadly most of cats that enter shelters may not be adopted. Estimates suggest only 4 out 10 cats who enter shelters make it out alive.[i] We need to help cats get along with housemate cats so they can stay in their homes.” said Theresa DePorter, veterinary behaviorist at the Oakland Veterinary Referral Service in Bloomfield Hills.
DePorter, who leads the study, is recruiting cats and their owners to test whether a new synthetic pheromone diffuser decreases aggression between housemate cats. There is no fee for participating in this study. Volunteers are given a $50 gift card upon completion of study observations. Over 100 families have participated but this trial may include more than 150 households if enrolled by July. DePorter explains, “This is a unique opportunity to help cats and enhance our understanding of feline aggressive behaviors.”
Cats communicate with each other by leaving chemical messages called pheromones in the environment that other cats “read,” much like we read newspapers. One way cats warn off or avoid dangerous situations is to mark areas with pheromones by rubbing, spraying or scratching.
“Two test diffusers will be plugged in the home for four weeks. Location for the transmission of these semiochemical messages is key so I will help each family identify the optimal locations for the diffusers,” DePorter said. The hope is that synthetic pheromones diffused steadily into the home may work on cats the same way but spread a message of peace, DePorter said.
“Aggression between or among cats forced to live in the same household is a frequent problem” according to Katherine Houpt VMD PhD Dipl ACVB professor emeritus and founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Houpt explained aggression between housemate cats “often leads to the most common reason owners complain about, relinquish or euthanize their cats -- urinating outside the litter box.”
DePorter said it’s a safety and quality of life issue for cats and for owners. “What is remarkable to me is that many of these cats have been fighting for years and years. These owners are dedicated to their cats but torn by the anguish.”
Last year DePorter found promising hope for alleviating distress amongst cats that fight with housemate cats when she conducted a placebo-controlled pilot study. She will present the study findings at the ACVB/AVSAB Veterinary Behavior Symposium on July 25, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.
Volunteers are pre-qualified and scheduled to attend an educational meeting (cats do not attend) to discuss feline social relationships, body postures, aggressive displays and other behaviors. Volunteers also receive educational materials.
During the study, owners keep a daily diary and record weekly observations for seven weeks. They report those findings, as well as their observations of frequency and intensity of aggression and fear. All participants are given the same guidelines for managing aggressive interactions between their cats. According to Theresa DePorter, “Understanding the cat’s innate motivations and responding with kindness and respect is essential to improving a cat’s welfare”.
Pre-qualified study volunteers may participate by attending one of the following meetings.
Dr. DePorter will conduct enrollment meeting on July 29th at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services 1400 Telegraph Road Bloomfield Hills, MI at either 2pm or 6pm; on July 22nd at the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital 2150 W Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI at either 2pm or 6pm. If you want to participate: contact Dr. DePorter at 248-334-6877 or TheresaDVM@aol.com.
Study details: http://www.ovrs.com/docs/brochures/CatStudy.pdf
DePorter bio: http://www.ovrs.com/docs/bios/DePorter.pdf
OVRS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheresaLDePorter
Contact: Theresa L. DePorter DVM, DECAWBM, DACVB, (248) 334-6877 or TheresaDVM@aol.com
Oakland Veterinary Referral Services (OVRS) has long been considered a leading center of specialty veterinary care in the Midwest. Theresa DePorter is board certified diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB) and the European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine (ECAWBM).