Cats’ Behavior Affected Crucially Early in Life

Neglect, abuse, isolation and nutritional deficiency are among factors adversely affecting early behavior.

Most of us recognize obvious signs of stress and anxiety in our cats — taking up residence under the bed being high on the list — but we may not be aware of more subtle signs, such as lowering the head and eyes, lifting a paw and staring at middle distance.

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These are among nearly 40 behaviors that may require intervention, according to the American Animal Hospital Association’s “2015 Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines,” published this past summer. “Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment or abandonment of pets,” the association says, adding that their management is essential in veterinary practice. It urges “a culture of kindness” that avoids the use of forced restraint.

Early Development. While the guidelines are directed at professionals (it recommends behavior assessments be part of every health care exam), pet owners will find extensive practical help and information. One example is the association’s explaining that patterns of behaviors are established early in development: “There is no evidence that pets ‘grow out’ of behavioral problems.”

If pets have experienced early stress, such as neglect, abuse, isolation, nutritional deficiency, environmental instability or their mothers’ gestational stress, it’s likely that there will be adverse effects on early behavior, according to the guidelines.

However, it points out that help is available, including behavior modification such as desensitization and counterconditioning, and behavior professionals. For more information, please see aaha.org/professional/resources/behavior2015.