Thunderstorm Anxiety; Fighting Cats; Pit Bulls: New Research from Veterinary Behavior Symposium


DENVER, CO. — A nutritional supplement with green tea as a primary ingredient can help dogs with thunderstorm anxiety; a new tool to inspire peace among dueling cats; and what it means to be called a pit bull when you’re a shelter dog. Investigators revealed their findings on these and other study topics during the 2014 Veterinary Behavior Symposium July 25.

The event, held in conjunction with the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, drew veterinary behaviorists, veterinarians with a special interest in animal behavior, certified dog and cat behavior consultants, and veterinary technicians from around the nation, even around the world.

Here are some of the highlights:

— Thunderstorm anxiety is a challenge to treat because dogs generalize their fears, becoming afraid of not only the sounds of storms themselves (the rain and thunder), but also responding to the approach of a storm (likely due to changes in barometric pressure and humidity) and the sight of lightning. Dogs with profound thunderstorm anxiety are better at predicting an oncoming storm than the National Weather Service!

There’s no doubt dogs with thunderstorm anxiety suffer, as do their owners, who feel awful for their panting, drooling, shaking pet, who may have accidents indoors. When storms occur overnight, dogs often keep their owners awake.

Much can be done to treat dogs’ thunderstorm anxiety, including psycho pharmaceutical intervention, but many pet owners don’t want to use drugs.

Dr. Amy Pike, of St. Louis, MO, enrolled 24 dogs reactive to storms in a study, using Anxitane to treat their fears. Interestingly, Anxitane’s active ingredient is L-Theanine which is found naturally in green tea. L-Theanine is a nutritional supplement with no known side effects. L-Theanine is known to modulate brain function, having a calming effect.

Indeed, dog owners in the study recorded a 40 percent reduction of general anxiety to the storms in their pets.

Anxitane is a tasty chewable, available through veterinarians.

— Most Americans who own a cat actually have more than one. Often the pets get along, but aggression can trigger nasty catfights. Other times, aggression is so covert that even savvy pet owners don’t notice. For example, one cat may block another from using the litter box simply by hanging out nearby.

Resulting behavioral issues (such as inappropriate elimination) or even injuries resulting from cat fights prompt some people to relinquish their cats to shelters or toss them outdoors to fend for themselves.

While behavior modification can ease tension among cats, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Theresa DePorter, of Bloomfield Hills, MI, sought to find out if a (yet to be released to the pubic) calming pheromone product might adjust the mood among feuding felines. A diffuser emits a copy of a natural occurring feline pheromone which cats sense.

The scope of her study was impressive: 42 households and 138 cats. Some owners plugged in a placebo diffuser, while others had the real deal.

“It turned out that the pheromone definitely decreased aggression and increased harmony among cats who weren’t previously getting along,” says DePorter. “The results were significant.” This new product will likely be released to the public in 2015.

— Dog trainer and behavior consultant Lisa Gunter, of Phoenix, AZ, tallied dogs labeled as pit bulls at the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA. Dogs labeled pit bulls had an average stay of 42.7 days. Dogs who may have looked like pit bulls but were labeled Labrador-mixes or something else were adopted far sooner, spending an average of only 12.8 days before finding homes. The implication is that being called a pit bill makes a negative impression on a significant number of adopters.

— Dr. Amy Marder, of Boston, MA, noted that a recent survey suggested food aggressive dogs are often considered unadoptable, but wondered aloud if that’s always a correct assumption.

Research confirmed her suspicions. To begin with, it turns out that dogs who guard their food in a shelter environment may not be food aggressive in “real life” at their adoptive homes. Among food aggressive dogs that are adopted and continue to be hot-tempered around the food dish, most owners say they learn to deal with the issue and it doesn’t really affect how they feel about their pets.

 ©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency