Are zoo big cats treated better than house cats?

An array of toys to stimulate and to create opportunities for natural behavior such as stalking moving objects and pouncing.
An array of toys to stimulate and to create opportunities for natural behavior such as stalking moving objects, scratching and pouncing.

Animals who live in zoos can be pitiful shadows. The number of pacing or lethargic or fur-plucking zoo residents are slowly being reduced by enrichment programs, at least in the United States.  Enrichment can be providing new and different food types, hiding the food in balls or puzzle boxes, introducing balls or other toys into the enclosure, introducing new scents into the enclosure, providing different types of bedding (straw, wood chips) and teaching tricks to strengthen the bond between zoo keeper and zoo resident. I interned at a zoo several years ago. As an intern, part of my day was spent carrying out enrichment procedures such as hiding food.

When I visit New York’s luxury apartments to care for well-loved cats, I’m saddened by the lack of enrichment. Some owners do go out of their way to provide an array of toys, vary the food, spend time playing with their cat, create bird-watching opportunities, and so on.  I love visiting these homes. Other homes are barren, if seen from a cat’s point of view.

One goal of enrichment is to allow the cat to engage in natural behaviors. Scratching is natural.  Pouncing is natural. Jumping up to the highest level in the room is natural. In some homes, all of these natural behaviors are grounds for punishment. The cat will be yelled at or sprayed with a water bottle or banished to another room. The inescapable fact is that a cat is a cat. Wanting to have a cat who looks like a cat but doesn’t do what cats do is self-defeating behavior, and accounts for the high frustration levels of some cat owners.

From The Association of Zoos & Aquariums

Types of Enrichment

It is important to have knowledge of a species’ natural behaviors and physiology when developing enrichment program. Several categories of enrichment are then used to enhance that species’ behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well being. These categories are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, however each, if relevant to the species, should be incorporated into an animal’s enrichment plan.

Environmental Enrichment Devices
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) are objects that can be manipulated by the animal. These objects may be novel or pre-existing. Natural EEDs may include browse, large and small branches, wood wool, hay, and flowers however these items should be kept clean to prevent bacterial growth. Man-made EEDs may include premade items such as car wash roller brushes or strips, Boomer balls, tires, and Kong toys, or constructed items such as puzzle boxes, piñatas, and various PVC contraptions.

Habitat Enrichment
Habitat design is an important consideration for providing enrichment. Habitats should provide a variety of substrates, levels, and complexities. Considerations should be given to useable space versus total space, and ease of reaching or changing platforms, tiers, ropes, nesting/denning areas, feed/water dispensers, and crevices/crannies for EED/enrichment food hiding.

Sensory Enrichment
Animal sensory systems are typically specialized by species and play crucial roles in their survival. Sensory enrichment is designed to address the animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste and elicit species-specific response, territorial, reproductive or hunting behaviors. Olfactory stimuli may include natural predator, pheromone, or prey scents or novel scents such as spices or perfumes. Tactile stimuli may include a variety of EEDs that can be manipulated including materials of different textures such as straw, soft blankets, paper, burlap, cardboard, or wood. Auditory stimuli may include the presentation of natural sounds or animal vocalizations recordings. Visual stimuli may include EEDs of different colors, those that move by wind or water current, animals in the line of sight from other habitats, video presentations, or mirrors. Gustatory stimuli include food enrichment items, flavored sprays, or beverages.

Food Enrichment
Food can be presented in a variety of ways elicit feeding, hunting, foraging behaviors, problem-solving strategies, and to facilitate behavioral conditioning. Food may be fresh, frozen, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy, light, cold, or and may be incorporated into puzzle boxes, hidden in or scattered about the habitat, or buried in the substrate.

Social Groupings
Social groupings should resemble those observed in the wild to facilitate feeding, grooming, social, territorial, and courtship behaviors. Mixed species exhibits may also provide symbiotic or complementary activities between the species.

Behavioral Conditioning
Behavioral conditioning for animal husbandry and research behaviors provides cognitive stimulation that increases the intellectual focus of an animal. Animals voluntarily participate in these training sessions to maintain established or learn new behaviors.

Drying and trimming claws Maine Coon cat

Bundle cat in a large, thick towel. Bath towels of good quality work best. You can use two towels if cat is irritable.
Bundle cat in a large, thick towel. Bath towels of good quality work best. You can use two towels if cat is irritable. This is a lovely, large cat who is sweet-natured, but due to hip sensitivity, can be irritable during grooming. He has swatted at me a few times, but I don’t take it personally. He’s just saying, “Be careful lady!” I have to always be aware of his hips to make sure that I don’t cause the big guy discomfort.
After bathing, I towel dry for several minutes, using one towel, then switching to another dry towel. Then I comb the head and neck. Most cats enjoy being combed there.
After bathing, I towel dry for several minutes, using one towel, then switching to another dry towel. Then I comb the head and neck. Most cats enjoy being combed there.
If I haven't already trimmed the claws, I pull out one paw at a time to trim them. In this situation, the cat is on the bathroom floor. I am sitting behind the cat, hovering over the cat.
If I haven’t already trimmed the claws, I pull out one paw at a time to trim them. In this photo, we are on the bathroom floor. The cat is on my lap. This is his rear paw. I am holding his upper body in my arms, close against me. Some cats seem to prefer being held close against my body instead of being on a table.
Now the cat has been towel dried. I am ready to blow dry. If the cat is jittery about blow drying, I keep his front area wrapped securely in the towel. I blow dry his rear. Then I stroke his face to calm him. Lastly, I blow dry his front area. In the photo, he is leaning against my leg, snuggling my foot.
Now the cat has been towel dried. I am ready to blow dry and de-shed. If the cat is jittery about blow drying, I keep his front area wrapped securely in the towel. I blow dry his rear. Then I stroke his face to calm him. Lastly, I blow dry his front area. In the photo, he is leaning against my leg, snuggling his face into my foot. Tickles!  You can see that even though he is well-cared for and often groomed, his coat does have shedded fur clumped in with fur that’s still attached. If he weren’t groomed monthly, he would develop mats and be carrying around a coat that is weighed down with shedded fur. Shedded fur keep air from circulating to the skin.  It’s just plain uncomfortable to be wearing a thick blanket of excess fur. I develop a lot of affection for the cats I groom, so I like to see them thriving and at ease in their body.

“Can cat hair get into my lungs?”

How would cat fur bypass the body’s protective mechanisms?

Cilia

Mucus

Various tubes of decreasing size

“The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.”

Particulate Matter/Air &Radiation US EPA

Is fur 10 micrometers or less? No. If fur is pulverized into dust, then perhaps it could enter the lungs. Groomers inhale particles, but are the particles small enough and in high enough volume to cause lung problems later in life? That I don’t know. Since high-velocity dryers are currently a standard grooming salon tool, I would guess that more particles are being blown around nowadays. In earlier years, a “stand dryer” or a human-style blow dryer was used to dry pets.

What I do know is that you will not see a furry lung if you autopsy a groomer.

“Since the late 1970’s, we only monitored particulate matter pollution that was 10 microns in diameter or less, called PM 10. A micron (or micrometer) is a millionth of a meter. To give you an idea of how small PM 10 is, the dot above the letter “i” in a typical newspaper measures about 400 microns!”  From Hamilton County Environmental Services website. Good site!

Note: Micron = micrometer = millionth part of a meter.  A meter is 39.37 inches. PM = Particulate Matter.

“PM is the term used for solid or liquid particles emitted to the air. Some particles are large enough to be seen, and others are so small they can only be detected with an electron microscope.”

Relevant article from NAILS Magazine: “If You Can’t See It, You Can’t Inhale It.” Take home message: “Particles that are small enough to remain airborne and possibly be inhaled are not visible to the naked eye. In other words, says Will Forest, associate toxicologist for the Hazard Evaluation System Information Service of the California Department of Health Services, “If you can see it, you can’t inhale it.”

Micrometer

So your long-haired cat needs to be groomed. Here’s what you need to buy.

I groom these two sweet-natured beauties once a month. (Jump to the middle of this post for links to grooming tools.) Even if your long-haired cat is another breed or a mix, you can use similar tools. If you are going to be grooming your cat monthly, it’s worth buying the tools and products. Grooming is a recurring part of the life of a long-haired cat. (If it’s not, it should be, because ungroomed cats lug around a lot of shedded fur and are coated with too much body oil.)

Chirp & Bambi’s owner is a responsible person who makes sure that her cats get the care they need to stay healthy, comfortable and happy. She combs them frequently, so that when I visit, I don’t have to subject them to intense de-matting. Lucky cats!

CAM02764 CAM02761 CAM02757 CAM02756

Tools and products:
Four Paws Tearless Cat Grooming Shampoo, 12oz

Groomers Goop Creme For Oily Coats

Four Paws Cat Grooming Claw Clipper

Wahl 41870-0423 Bravura Lithium Purple Professional Cord/Cordless Pet Clipper Kit by Wahl Professional Animal

TINY TRIM ball tipped small pet grooming scissor 4.5″ EAR NOSE FACE PAW

Andis Pet 7-1/2-Inch Steel Comb (65730)

Li’l Pals Slicker Purple and Green Brush for Dogs, Extra Small

Safari Cat Shedding Comb, Wood Handle

The Wet Hair Brush, Metallic Purple

Oster Hi-Velocity Adjustable Table and Cage Dryer

The set up for home grooming
The set up for home grooming

My cat is shedding too much. Solutions for shedding.

Some short-haired cats release a large amount of hair in the spring.

I removed this fur using the soft Love Glove.  The cat purred during the grooming. This same cat is brushed four times a week, but look how much fur comes off!  Now she won’t have to cough up hair balls or walk around with a coat that is twice as heavy as it needs to be in the warm weather.

To buy: Four Paws Purple Love Glove Cat Grooming Mitt

After two minutes of brushing with the Love Glove!
After 2 minutes of brushing with the Love Glove!

Loveglove1

How to avoid getting scratched by a cat

Cat-scratch sequence activated.

Due to anatomy and predisposition, cats predictably do certain things at certain times. The predictability makes it possible to handle most of them, even though they have claws and teeth. Note: predictably does not mean 100% of the time.

Scenario. Cat-scratch sequence activated.

Goal: Pick up cat without being scratched.

Cat laying on side, eyes wide with dilated pupils, focused on you, part or all of belly visible, tail may be moving back and forth. Defensive fighting position. Cat’s short-term goal — keep person from touching body. End goal — run away and hide. In this position, cat’s front paws can’t reach further than a few inches. Stay out of range.

Front legs are a cat’s knives. Used to inflict damage. (Back legs are a cat’s hammers. More powerful than front paws. Used for “rabbit-kicking”, not scratching.)

Wrap towel around hand or wear a glove unless you have a tolerance for risk. Very quickly put hand on cat’s rear and spin cat so that cat’s rear end faces you, if you can reach cat’s rear without putting your hand in front of cat. If you can’t, use a wrapped towel (tube shape) to prod cat into position where you can reach rear. (Can use your other hand to distract cat.)

Place your hand on cat’s shoulder blades, press down enough to keep cat from moving. Roll cat onto its belly, while maintaining firm hold. Cat’s stomach should be flat against table/ground, no longer exposed. Cat’s rear legs should be under the cat, so the cat is in a “loaf” position.

If you can’t do this, distract cat with towel and grab scruff with hand. Gently hoist cat up a few inches, then plop cat down so cat is on belly, legs underneath in cat loaf position.

Cat-scratch launch sequence de-activated.

If cat is determined to scratch, I wear the Bite Buster glove.

To buy: BiteBuster Nitrile/Kevlar Bite Gauntlet Extreme Cat Glove, 18-Inch, Small/Medium, Black

 

Scratch sequence not activated.
Scratch sequence not activated.

Cat shedding. What to do.

Cats shed more in the spring. Generally a true statement. Maine Coons shed enough fur to make another Maine Coon.

Based on observation . . .

Most common place for largest mats — along the side of body.

Most common place for smaller mats — behind ears, under chin.

Tools to use: rakes, metal combs, slicker brushes, and other tools reaching to the skin, not just skimming surface.

How often to comb/brush: Daily until shedding season is over.

How to know when shedding season is over: Less fur removed than during previous brushings/combings.

For your de-shedding toolkit . . . many types of rakes and slicker brushes will work.

To buy:

Rake: Evolution W6110 Grooming Undercoat Rake with Rotating Teeth, Double Row

Slicker brush: Four Paws Magic Coat Gentle Slicker Wire Brush for Cats

But wait, there's more!
But wait, there’s more!