Cats love to get high


Strategic cage placement in veterinary practices can alleviate cats' behavioral problems.

There's much talk about low-stress ways to get cats into carriers, but new insight in feline care suggests the effort to adopt Fear-Free medicine doesn't end with putting cats in cages. 

I was at a veterinary practice in Southern California recently and noticed that the upper bank of small stainless steel cages in treatment and boarding were being used for inventory storage, not housing. I also noticed cats in the middle and bottom cages. This seemingly little matter is a big mistake.

Of course, if the clinic isn't busy and has plenty of cages to choose from, what's wrong with using the easier-to-access lower cages? Plenty- if you're a cat. Here's why.

The cat's point of view

I sat in on a recent seminar from Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVN, about cats at the Portland Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Buffington, who recently retired after working for decades at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, talked about how cats intrinsically love to climb (in predator mode to look for food, in prey mode to relax safely) and how they go from “sleep to slaughter” in their brain about 10 times a day. How important are high perches?

He gave us an example from his clinical study days at the university. A cat with feline idiopathic cystitis was donated, but she was so stressed he was going to need to cull her from the study (she would have been euthanized). Dr. Buffington's graduate student at the time, Judi Stella (now a PhD animal behaviorist with the USDA), put the cat in an upper bank of cages for closer observation. All the freaked-out feline's behavioral problems disappeared overnight.

For decades, we've put canine and feline patients in whatever cages seemed to fit the pet. Some of us still don't think about whether it's better to put a cat in an upper cage, a middle cage or a lower cage-where, heaven forbid, predators are only a whisker away.

While there's always more study to be done, we now know that if you have a choice, put the cat in the uppermost cage.

Dr. Marty Becker is a renowned speaker, TV personality and author. He practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.

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