Optimising the feline environment

Sarah Heath
Friday, April 2, 2021

In this workshop Sarah Heath explored the five pillars of feline environmental needs.

 The use of feline pheromones can enhance coping in cats during veterinary visits, creating a greater sense of control.
The use of feline pheromones can enhance coping in cats during veterinary visits, creating a greater sense of control.

Sarah Heath's workshop on optimising the feline environment, started by looking at feline emotional health. She explained the role of positive (engaging) emotions and then covered negative emotions, which are not bad emotions, but are more about cats protecting themselves. Sarah explained how the protective emotions can lead to behaviours that repel or avoid a potential threat or behaviours which enable the cat to find out more through inhibition or appeasement. She showed how these protective emotions help to keep the cat safe and are therefore beneficial, as long as they are triggered in an appropriate context. Sarah explained the concept of emotional resilience which enables the individual cat to maintain a lower resting level of emotional arousal and to recover after being emotionally aroused,

Natural feline social behaviours influence the behaviour of cats within our families. Sarah explored the five pillars of feline environmental needs and explained how creation of an optimal environment influences both emotional and physical health. Taking each pillar in turn Sarah discussed how emotions are affected if these pillars are not met and cats are left living in a suboptimal environment.

The first pillar relates to the cat's need for a safe and secure territory which is only shared with members of their social group. There is advice on how to increase the cat's sense of security, in order to manage their fear-anxiety motivation. Sarah supplied practical ideas for optimising the safe place to provide cats with the ability to feel secure and have privacy. She also considered how emotional motivations can be affected if we fail to do so.

Sarah gave a breakdown of how to achieve the other four environmental pillars and the emotional impact if optimisation is not achieved in these areas. She discussed the need for provision of multiple and separated key resources and explained the significance of this for both single and multiple cat households. The importance of providing an opportunity for play and predatory behaviours was discussed and Sarah explained the emotional motivations involved in play. Object play is driven by the desire seeking motivation and results in predatory style behaviour, and human caregivers can help to facilitate the movement of the toys, for example through the use of fishing rod style toys, which helps to stimulate this form of play and they can also provide play objects which offer sensory stimulation. Selection of appropriate toy items is essential to avoid the desire seeking system being frustrated and the limitations of laser pens and iPads for cat play was discussed. Sarah also discussed how this need for predatory outlets can be satisfied within the feeding context by giving cats more control over their feeding environment. Another emotional motivation for play is social play and Sarah explained the differences between the role of social play for socially obligate mammals, like dogs and humans, and socially non-obligate species like the cat.

Finally Sarah explored the need for an environment that respects the cat's sense of smell and explains how pheromone signals can help to ensure that feline territory is recognised as a safe and secure location and give individual cats a sensation of personal security. Sarah explained the potential for use of FELIWAY Optimum, a bioengineered complex of some of the constituents of naturally occurring pheromones, resulting in the ability to increase both personal and environmental security. She also discussed the product is formulated to bind very specifically to the vomeronasal organ receptor thereby improving the clinical efficacy.

A failure to fulfil the five pillars of feline environmental needs can lead to changes in behaviour which human caregivers may present to veterinary practices as being problematic, such as cats hiding or urine marking. These are a reflection of a protective (negative) emotional bias which also has physiological consequences and can therefore lead to physical health becoming compromised. Considering the optimisation of the feline environment and working to create an engaging (positive) emotional bias is therefore an important part of emotional, cognitive and physical healthcare and the veterinary profession.

The use of feline pheromones can enhance coping in cats during veterinary visits, creating a greater sense of control.

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