Episode Rewind: Science Behind a Healthy Feline Environment

The last weekend of February we let the cats take over the show. The episode completely focused on our feline companions and how to keep them happy and healthy. We had two cat-tastic doctors, Dr. Kelly Diehl and Dr. Liz Bales, attend the show. Dr. Diehl shared with us the 5 pillars of cat health and the latest studies in feline health at Morris Animal Foundation. Dr. Bales introduced us to the NoBowl Feeding System.


The Five Pillars of Cat Health

Image from The Web Awards

1. Keep key environment resources without competition – In multi-cat homes it may be tempting to just allow the cats to share the same food dish, water bowl, and litter box, but don’t. A shared food dish will create a lot of stress for your cat. Your cats will sense competition with your other cats and may behave aggressively to them or your home. Remember wild felines are used to hunting and eating on their own. They don’t like to share meals with other felines.

Image from FuzzFeed

2. Make sure your cat has a safe spot – Cats need a place where they can nap and relax. This can be anywhere in your home. It can be the cat carpet tree that your cat can perch on. The top of the chair where you rest your head is often a favorite spot. The comfy cat bed you just bought, or , more likely, the box the cat bed came in 😉 will be other common favorite places. Anywhere is fine, as long as your cat can “escape” to  comfort without being disturbed by other pets (or YOU).

Image from Catster.com

3. Allow your cat to act out their predatory behaviors – Cats are natural hunters and are not truly domesticated. This is why it’s not uncommon you will open the front door and find a present from Mr. Jingles in the morning. A great way to promote your cat’s natural predatory behaviors (without throwing them outside) is to play with them with a laser pointer. You can also run away from them with string trailing behind you. A wind-up mouse can help trigger those predatory behaviors too. On the other hand, if the idea of toy rodent scurrying on your floor terrifies and abhors you, you may want to stick with the laser pointer and string.

Image from Cheezburger.com

4. Don’t forget the cat-human bond – Cats may not socialize as much as dogs, but they still need love and attention, too. You may say (or even believe) that your cat doesn’t like you or care for you as you try to pet him or her. However, your cat may like you (probably LOVES you), but hates your “in-the-face” behavior of displaying affection and subjecting them to petting on your terms. Allow your cat to seek you out and then show them some attention.

Image from Cat Care Clinic

5. Allow the environment to respect your cat’s sense of smell – This one may be tough, as cat odors can be downright nasty and gross. However, cats communicate through smells. They even try to communicate to us through smells and how we respond. Scrub, scrub, scrub, no more cat crud…and his entire love letter to you and his warning to other pets is gone! Now I’m not saying go extreme and let your cat rub its stink all over the place so your home smells like a crazy cat woman’s house. Far from it. Instead you should consider using odorless litter for the litter box so your cat doesn’t feel repulsed and goes else where. Limit how often and where you clean, using non-fragrance cleaners, and allow your cat to keep some of his smell in your home, and your cat will less likely feel the need to spray and do other gross stink-spreading.

For more on the five cat pillars of health check out this article: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1098612X13477537


Feline Health Studies

A poor cat with Injection Site Sarcoma. The ultrasound device that Dr. Diehl shared could help remove such cancerous growths in cats. (Image from Cat & Kittens)

Dr. Diehl works for the Morris Animal Foundation, a global leader supporting scientific research that advances vet medicine, as Scientific Writer /Science Curator. She shared with us some of the exciting studies aimed specifically at cats. One of the studies she shared involves the treatment of feline cancer. She described the advances of removing tumors from cats. Surgeons can find it difficult to identify any remaining tumor tissue after they remove a tumor mass. This obviously doesn’t help your cat if the tumor is malignant because leaving just a few malignant cells can allow them to multiply and create new cancerous growths in your cat. The study is testing an ultrasound device to help the surgeon  identify any remaining malignant tumors during the actual surgery on the cat. This device is already used with removing tumors from women with breast cancer, and shows great promise to veterinary surgery.

The structure of a coronavirus. (Image from ResearchGate)

A possible breakthrough in curing Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) may arise soon in another study Dr. Diehl shared with us. For those of you not familiar with FIP, it’s a 100% fatal disease to cats showing signs of being infected. It’s a disease that arises from a common intestinal virus, a type of coronavirus. In some cats. this virus mutates into a horrible fatal disease that seems to infect mostly young cats. Currently, no treatments or cures been developed in 40 years since the disease has been discovered. For the first time, scientists have discovered a blocking agent that seems to cure cats with FIP. It’s important to note this blocking agent took part in a trial in a controlled science lab, and this new study is exploring this discovery further. As of now, the blocking agent is getting tested with cats in shelters and the same results are being observed. It may just be the end to the FIP disease. SuPAW exciting!!!


Another study Dr. Diehl shared with us was the use of anticoagulants on cats. People with high risk or history of strokes and embolisms use anticoagulants to help reduce risk and recurrence. Cats also experience heart problems and are prone to blood clots, too. Morris Animal Foundation has funded a study that is investigating human anticoagulants, such as Plavix, used with cats. They currently are also looking into the Rivaroxaban which is Xarelto. They’re comparing it to Plavix and seeing if these drugs can improve cats with clot  problems. Plavix is already entering the mainstream in veterinary science.

Morris Animal Foundation provides critical funding to dozens of veterinary research projects and they rely heavily on donations to help fund those grants. Researchers in the field apply for grants on studies  and Morris Animal Foundation evaluates them with their scientific advisory board. They carefully review them and rank them based on merit and how they will impact animal health. They funded 15% of the submitted canine and feline grants last year, but they can’t fund all the fantastic studies that get proposed to them. You can find out more about the studies Morris funds and how to donate on their website: http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Back to Nature — No Bowl Feeding System

Image from NoBowl Feeding System

The show concluded with Dr. Liz Bales introducing us to the “NoBowl Feeding System.” She gave us the knowledge of how this system came into being and why it’s necessary by describing the seeking circuit. The seeking circuit is a series of behaviors cats performs in a well-defined sequence:

  1. Cat hunts and catches their prey
  2. They taunt and “play” with their prey
  3. Supper-time! Prey is consumed.
  4. Then some careful grooming to clean off the carnage
  5. Nap time!

Essentially this sequence happens 10-20 times a day over a 24 hour time period. A cat out in the wild focuses their entire life dedicated to the hunts within this sequence. And even when we started keeping cats as pets, we still let them outside whenever they wanted, and we relied on them to keep the vermin out of the house and the barn.  But just a few decades ago, we brought most of our cats indoors and started feeding them from a bowl — which completely throws them out of the sequence that is embedded in their natural psychology.

When thrown out of the seeking circuit, a cat can experience high stress. They start to behave abnormally because they don’t know what to do. Many will start to overeat and become obese, possibly just “scarf and barf” because they have access to WAY more food than they would get during a normal hunting kill.  Some will sleep over 22 hours a day, behave destructively, and start waking owners in the middle of the night. These behaviors can be reduced, and possibly avoided altogether, if their predatory behaviors are intertwined with their eating habits, albeit indoors where they are safe. 

One of the No Bowl pods. (Image from NoBowl Feeding System)

The Nobowl Feeding System takes into account the needs of the cat’s ability to hunt and eat frequent small meals from the food we feed them now. The NoBowl Feeding System is 5 mouse shaped pods that contain a plastic container with food. The pod is enveloped by soft fabric so your cat can bite and scratch at the pod. Hide the NoBowl for the cat to seek and hunt for the food. For multi-cat homes the feeding system still works and it prevents less tension and stress cats can feel from sharing the same feeding bowl — you just have to have a system for each kitty, so they each have access to 5 of the pods. In some households, one cat may be a dominant hunter or each cat eats a different food. For those homes, it may require the cats being separated in another room to hunt for their food.

We just got the No Bowl Feeding System in our home…stay tuned for a future post about how our kitties fared with the new system.

For more on cat feeding habits check out these resources:

How Many Calories are in a Mouse

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention

American Association of Feline Practitioners position statement on feline environmental needs

Dr. Bales’s Catvocate blog