Celebrate ‘Be Kind to Animals Week’

Lorna Trumbull, a marketing executive in New York City, considers it kismet that she learned about Be Kind to Animals Week and the Best Friends Animal Society on the same day back in 2007. After reading in a local newspaper about the American Humane Association’s annual weeklong celebration of the bond between humans and animals, she heard about the Best Friends volunteer program from the National Geographic channel.

“I wanted to acknowledge Be Kind to Animals Week in an active way, so I took a trip to Best Friends in Utah, where I got to spend five days caring for and playing with shelter cats,” says Trumbull. “I met people who are totally devoted to making the lives of animals better, and I left feeling so hopeful. I’ve made it an annual tradition -- this year will be my fourth visit.”

Below, learn more about the Be Kind to Animals Week tradition and ways in which you can recognize it.

The History

The American Humane Association -- not to be confused with the Humane Society -- was founded in 1877 to protect animals and children from abuse and neglect. Today, they work with child and animal protection agencies around the country to develop policies, legislation and training programs to carry out their original mission.

Be Kind to Animals Week originated in 1915 to promote the association’s philosophy: that a world in which we treat animals well is a nicer place to live. For the last 95 years, Be Kind to Animals Week has taken place in the beginning of May. (This year’s date is May 2 to 8.)

Humane Education

Giving your cat an extra portion of catnip certainly makes you a participant in Be Kind to Animals Week, but the Humane Association thinks on a broader scale. It promotes teaching the world at large to care for animals in their homes and communities -- from butterflies and raccoons to house cats and hamsters. “The end goal is to create a more compassionate and responsible society,” explains Heather Black, a spokesperson for the organization.

How You Can Be Kind

  • Update your Twitter or Facebook status. Spread the word and tell your friends about Be Kind to Animals Week. Recommends the Humane Association for your status: “So many animals. So many ways to be kind. Celebrate Be Kind to Animals Week, May 2-8.”
  • Become an armchair activist. Register for action alerts on the ASPCA or Humane Association Web sites. When issues impacting animals come up, you’ll receive emails allowing you to sign petitions, donate money or even volunteer your time for the cause. “If you know what’s going on with animals in your community, you can reach out to your local representative or help in other ways,” emphasizes Black.
  • Teach your children well. When kids grow up understanding the worth of the lives of all animals, they are likely to take those values into adulthood and pass them on to their own children. Set up an outdoor bird feeder for birds in the winter. Encourage your children to take responsibility for some aspect of your household pet’s care.
  • Take good care of your pet. Make time during Be Kind to Animals Week to ensure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date, that your cat is wearing the correct identification and that it’s spayed or neutered. Or just spend some extra time playing with your pet.
  • Adopt an animal. Around four million pets are euthanized each year because they don’t have a home. Shelters and rescues have the perfect pet for your family -- from purebreds to mixed breeds. “Make sure to do your research about the level of care your pet will need before you bring it home,” advises Black. “Choose the right pet or breed for your lifestyle.”

Lorna Trumbull discovered Best Friends sanctuary and the joys of giving love to cats without their own homes in part because of Be Kind to Animals Week. She now has her own ideas about improving the tradition. She says, “I think it should be every day.”

Top 10 Thanksgiving Tips for Cat Owners

In the chaos of getting ready for a Thanksgiving party, it’s easy to forget that little disruptions to your pet’s routine life can lead to big drama. To help you plan ahead, we’ve enlisted the guidance of E’Lise Christensen, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist at NYC Veterinary Specialists, and her colleague Patricia Joyce, DVM. Here’s what they advise:

1. Set up a Kitty “Panic Room”
Set aside a secluded room for your cat to use as a safe haven. Many cats are much more comfortable in their own special space rather than out with visitors, so don’t think of this as a bad thing for your cat. Set it up a few days in advance and spend some time in there with your cat. The room should include elevated resting and hiding areas, a litter box, food, water and toys.

2. Mind the Door
While guests are coming and going, cats may lurk by the door and try to make a break for it. Dr. Christensen recommends placing your cat in its safe haven while your guests arrive and leave.

3. Teach Kids About Cats
Kids often love cats, but cats don’t always love loud, energetic kids. Dr. Christensen advises isolating your cat in its safe haven if there will be many children around. If you have a small group of well-behaved kids, let the kids throw treats or toys on the floor for the cat. Teaching children how to properly play and behave around cats could make everyone happy. 

4. Protect Your Guests’ Belongings
Cats usually get stressed when their space is invaded by strangers. This stress can cause some cats to urinate on the new things in the environment. Put your guests’ belongings out of reach.

5. Keep Your Cat on Its Usual Diet
Dr. Joyce says many Thanksgiving foods can make cats sick. It’s tempting to want to share on a special occasion, but your kitty won’t be very thankful if you give it nausea.

6. Snuff Those Candles
With a large number of unfamiliar people in the house, your cat may decide to stay off the floors and jump up to higher vantage points to take in the scene. A candle placed in the wrong spot could be knocked over and burn more than your holiday turkey. Avoid that risk.

7. Beware of Guests Bearing Flowers
People like to bring plant or floral arrangements as gifts, but cats will want to investigate them and maybe even take a taste. Some plants, like those in the lily family, can be poisonous and even fatal. Keep the arrangements away from your cat, unless you know exactly what plants are in them and that they’re safe.

8. Mix “In-law” Pets With Caution
Out-of-town guests might bring the family pet. You may already know that your cat gets along with his cousin Fifi the poodle or Cleo the Abyssinian, but mixing unfamiliar pets should be avoided whenever possible.

9. Don’t Medicate Unnecessarily
Owners of particularly high-strung cats may be tempted to medicate a cat that’s likely to be freaked out by boisterous houseguests, but Dr. Joyce doesn’t recommend it. Instead, keep your skittish feline in its safe-haven room.

10. Consider Aromatherapy
Both Dr. Joyce and Dr. Christensen say products that mimic natural cat pheromones can help keep your kitty comfortable during parties and other stressful times. A pheromone is a natural chemical signal that triggers a specific response, and in this case, the response is to “chill the cat out,” according to Dr. Joyce.

There is one catch in this holiday planning: What if you and your cat are the ones traveling for Thanksgiving? With a little advance work and a friendly conversation with your host, all the above tips should be easy enough to implement wherever you are.

Preventing Feline Wintertime Blues

Although cats might not be formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, the mood disorder that causes some people to experience symptoms of depression in the winter, veterinarians and feline fanciers say they do notice similar changes in some cats.

One in three cat owners finds that their pets seem more sad and less playful in the winter, according to a 2007 survey by People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), England's largest veterinary charity. Dr. Elaine Pendlebury, a senior veterinary surgeon with PDSA, believes that low levels of light can adversely affect all animals, including nonhuman ones.

How Winter Can Affect Your Kitty's Behavior
Like their human counterparts, kitties can show changes in energy levels, appetite, sleep patterns and temperament when exposure to light decreases. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, sees it every winter. Dr. Colleran maintains feline-only practices in both Chico, Calif., and Portland, Ore. The weather might be a bit gray in Portland, but it's fairly consistent year-round, says Dr. Colleran. Her feline clientele in Portland doesn't demonstrate noticeable seasonal changes. But Dr. Colleran has noted quite a seasonal shift in the kitties she sees in Chico, which is hot and sunny in the summer but far gloomier during the winter.

"I really do see a difference, I'm absolutely convinced of it," says Dr. Colleran. In the wild, other cat behaviors, such as mating, are related to exposure to light. It's therefore logical to assume that the onset of winter might have some effect on your kitty as well, Dr. Colleran explains.

Dr. Debra Givin, DVM, isn't sure there are physiological reasons for cats to suffer from a seasonal depression. Nonetheless, she notes changes in some felines she sees in her Portland, Maine, practice. "Certainly in the Northern latitudes, I've on occasion thought for the older cats," says Dr. Givin. "As they face another winter, some of them seem to take a turn for the worse. In the wintertime, life is harder. It's cold and dark."

Helping Kitty Cope
Fortunately, you can do plenty to perk up your moping feline. Simple changes in your behavior and activities in the winter might also play a role in how your cat is behaving, says Dr. Givin. If you and your veterinarian have ruled out medical causes for your kitty's malaise, here are several areas to consider when it comes to your cat's wintertime behavior:

  • Exposure to light All cats notice changes in light, so make sure you open curtains to let the sun in, says Dr. Givin. Natural light can be important for your cat's mood. You can also place a small lamp near your cat's bed, making sure your kitty isn't exposed to a hot bulb or isn't likely to knock the lamp over. Shorter winter days mean your kitty might be stuck in a dark, gloomy house, awaiting your return in the evening.
     
  • Temperature changes Houses can be a bit chillier as we try to trim energy bills. The ideal temperature for cats is 75 F, says Dr. Givin. Since it's unlikely you'll keep your house that warm, make sure your cat has warm options, such as a heated cat bed, a bed near a sunny window or a place to snooze near a safe heater. If you keep a litter box in a garage or basement, you might find a change in your cat's bathroom habits. No kitty is going to be happy about venturing into "a cold, dank basement in January," Dr. Givin says.
     
  • Sleep patterns "We shouldn't just assume it's OK to sleep 23 out of 24 hours a day," Dr. Colleran says. If your cat is sleeping more than usual, it could be a case of the wintertime blues.
     
  • Activity We tend to slow down in the winter, and it's easy to forget that cats still require our interaction, says Dr. Colleran. Remind yourself to interact with your cat, especially on those nights when you simply want to curl up on the sofa with a warm blanket. Add novelty to your kitty's life by changing toys, hanging a bird feeder near a window or simply moving around an assortment of cardboard boxes for your kitty to explore.
     
  • Eating habits Just like people, cats may eat out of boredom or for comfort. If you notice your cat eating more or gaining weight this winter, make sure to take control of its portions and to discuss with your veterinarian how much your kitty should be eating. "If a cat is doing nothing during the winter but sauntering up the food bowl then going back to sleep, it's no wonder it gains weight," Dr. Colleran says.
     
  • Lifestyle changes Our behavior often changes in the winter, say veterinarians. You may have more parties or houseguests, which can place stress on your kitty. Noises around your home may be different, as furnaces rumble and we putter more indoors. Be sensitive to how your feline perceives these changes and whether your behavior places stress on your cat. For instance, a litter box placed near a furnace might not be a big deal in the summer, but it's a recipe for one stressed kitty in the winter.
     

Knowing your cat well -- winter and summer -- is the best way to judge behavioral changes. As Dr. Colleran concludes, "You have to really be aware of what's going on with your cat."

Bringing the Outdoors Inside

For thousands of years, cats roamed the great outdoors, where their daily survival depended upon interpreting a multitude of sights, sounds and smells. With domestication, many of these now half-wild and half-tame kitties reside indoors where life is much safer but seemingly not as exciting. “The lovely, safe homes we provide for them, free of threats, with plenty of food and minimal territorial invasions can be boring,” says veterinarian Margie Scherk, whose private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, specializes in feline medicine.

Household kitties need not feel like they are serving jail time, though. You can provide the best of both worlds by keeping your kitty safely inside and bringing the stimulation of outdoor living indoors to improve your cat’s quality of life.

Here’s how you can engage all five of your feline’s senses in the cozy comfort of your own home:

Sight
Keep your cat visually stimulated and interested in playing with toys by rotating them daily, says Lisa Radosta, a board certified veterinary behaviorist in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. She likes the interactive, motorized toys made by Panic Mouse because they encourage natural predatory behaviors. You can also fulfill your cat’s hunting desire, she says, through daily play sessions with a feather wand, or other toys that allow your kitty to stalk and catch imaginary prey.

Another option is to play a DVD created just for cats, like “Kitty Cat Daycare” or “Video Catnip,” which were produced to capture feline interest with images of birds and other small mammals. In a study slated for release later this year in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, researchers concluded that televised moving images of prey animals hold “some merit as a method of environmental enrichment for domestic cats,” so time in front of the tube may not be unproductive, at least for feline viewers.

Sound
The outdoors features a smorgasbord of sounds, such as singing birds, rustling leaves and chirping crickets. Indoors, you can replicate this by playing a CD of nature sounds at low volume, says Dr. Radosta. Not only will your kitty enjoy it, but you might, too. Also, consider purchasing a drinking fountain. Found at most pet retailers, these motorized bowls look like mini-waterfalls. Best of all, the soothing sound of moving water is a gentle reminder for kitties to stay hydrated. 

Touch
Scratching is a natural behavior but not all cats enjoy the same material, according to Dr. Radosta. Experiment with several different textures to figure out your cat’s preference. If your feline loves sinking its nails into your leather sofa, for example, try adhering pleather (a less expensive option to leather) to a wooden post. You can find this material at your local fabric store. Better yet, create the ultimate natural scratcher by mounting a tree stump to a solid wooden base. You can do this with wood screws, wood glue, an electric screwdriver and brackets. Just make sure that there are no sharp surfaces, which could scratch your kitty instead of the other way around.

Smell
Open screened windows to allow your cat a whiff of fresh air. Dr. Scherk also suggests giving your pet outdoor access through modules that attach to your home via a pet door. Several companies sell these premade enclosures, or you can learn online how to build your own at The Stanford Cat Network, a group in California that cares for homeless felines on Stanford University’s campus. The network’s Web site features the instructions in an article entitled “Allowing your cat outdoors.”

Taste
In the wild, cats like to graze on grass. Give your kitty a taste of the outdoors by placing pots filled with easily digestible oat grass around your home. Another favorite feline herb is catnip. Just keep in mind that not all greenery is safe for kitties to eat. “Chives are not a good idea,” warns Dr. Scherk. “Neither is all of the onion and garlic family. They can cause anemia by damaging red blood cells.”

By bringing outdoor pleasures into your home, not only are you creating a better living environment for your cat, but you are preventing potential medical and behavioral issues from developing. “Stimulating the cat’s every sense is what we go for in environmental enrichment,” explains Dr. Radosta. “And to do that, you need to bring the outside in because the outside provides inspiration for the ultimate environmental enrichment.”