As the veterinary community descends on Las Vegas to discover this year’s latest methodologies enhancing both animal and human health as part of the Western Veterinary Conference, Goodnewsforpets took a moment to reconnect with Valarie Tynes, DVM, DACVB. Valarie was previously featured as part of our American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ column featuring insight into the book Decoding Your Dog, found here. She is a board-certified diplomate in animal behavior and a member of the Fear Free board of advisors.
During the Western Veterinary Conference, she will be presenting to veterinarians on the elusive behavior of cats & more relative to revealing their physical health as part of the Ceva Animal Health LLC sponsored half-day symposium, New Research & Clinical Findings in Behavior & Dermatology.
Since we last interviewed you, you joined Ceva Animal Health as a Veterinary Services Specialist. What does your job now entail?
I am talking to veterinarians about behavior and behavior products offered by Ceva Animal Health. I travel quite a lot and I write some of the behavior pieces such as “How to get your cat in the carrier”. I’m also on the Advisory board of Fear Free which I joined at about the same time as I joined Ceva.
At this year’s Western Veterinary Conference, you are presenting a section called “The Interactions of Feline Physical & Mental Health”, are there physiological effects resulting from fear or anxiety in cats?
There are physiological effects from fear or anxiety on every living thing. When fear or anxiety is chronic, it causes stress or more accurately, “distress” on the organism. This has the effect overall of decreasing immune status. It makes the body more susceptible to disease. That is the most clearly understood concept in medicine, but we know now it can even go deeper than that.
We know that a person, or an animal experiences a variety of bodily changes when stressed; just about every single system is affected. The cortisol that stress causes leads to many changes including, in some case, permanent changes in the function and structure of the brain. In pets, it works the same way.
Feline interstitial cystitis, not a condition easily treatable, is a disease that has been clearly shown to be associated with stress. Treatments with anti-inflammatories or analgesics are not going to be enough. By not addressing environmental issues, the problem won’t be solved and it can become quite serious to the health and welfare of the pet.
Can you tell us about the Fear Free Initiative and why you became involved with Fear Free?
I’ve been involved on the advisory board of Fear Free almost since its inception. The minute I heard about it, I saw the opportunity that Fear Free would bring to the veterinary community. Addressing the behaviors of the pet, related to stress, fear and anxiety, and how those things impact the medical wellbeing of the pet, is something the veterinary behaviorists have been concerned about for a very long time.
Behavior problems are not unimportant. Behavior problems do contribute to health problems and disease. In addition, most pets that end up in shelters are there because of behavior problems.
In fact, behavior problems need to be thought about in the same way as other diseases such as cardiovascular disease. By embracing the Fear Free concept in the entire practice as a protocol and paying attention to every patient’s behavior, veterinarians are truly optimizing the medical care of every patient and ultimately may be extending the life of the pets in their care.
What part does fear and stress play in behavioral problems in pets?
If a veterinarian is seeing a pet that is anxious in the clinic, the chances are great that the pet also has anxiety related behavior at home. For example, when spayed or neutered dogs or cats urine mark in the home, this is not because they are mad at the owner; it is because they are anxious. The majority of aggression problems have fear or anxiety at their root. These individuals are suffering emotionally. Thirty years ago, we weren’t paying much attention to mental or emotional suffering in animals. Fear Free is helping us change that.
What are some stress triggers that pet parents should be mindful of in their pets?
One of the most obvious, but one of the hardest to change is to not punish a pet. For example, using a spray of yelling no, clapping your hands, stamping your feet, things that seem benign to us, can be distressing to animals that are already experiencing fear or anxiety. If people spend more time rewarding good behavior, you will see better long term results. Remember, fear and anxiety related behaviors are the result of an internal emotional state. Focusing on changing the behavior without attending to the emotional state can lead to other behavior problems. However, if you change the emotional state then the behavior will change.
As an example, cat owners might want to keep in mind that too many cats in too small a space creates stress. Cats desire vertical space so they can survey their living area and to be able to hide. Provide them with the resources they value. People need to understand the environment that works best for their pet and veterinarians should be able to help them do that.
How can the Fear Free Initiative help pets and pet parents ease the stress of veterinary visits?
Basically, what we are trying to do is change something people are taking for granted — that pets are always going to be afraid of the vet. Because fear and anxiety are dangerous to an animal, anything we can do to decrease that is going to be helpful. If we can decrease the fear about the veterinary visit, then we can also increase the availability of healthcare.
With Fear Free, for example, veterinarians will learn that they can’t just send an owner home with a bottle of pills, they must also teach the owner how to give them to the pet in the safest and most stress-free way possible. Because in the end, if that animal is hard to treat, it is not going to get, good long-term healthcare. The pet owner may avoid even bring in their pet to the veterinarian, until the problem is so severe, that we can’t treat it successfully.
Can you tell us some ways to implement Fear Free teachings in the home?
People can do so much to prepare their pets for the veterinary visit. For cats, the carrier is the cue that the cat is going to the vet. Having them used to the carrier is step #1 so that they view the carrier as a positive thing.
Keep the cat carrier out in the hall or living area, somewhere where the cat can get to it. Put it near a scratching post. Put treats in it. Wipe it with Feliway occasionally and right before they enclose the cat for a trip to the vet This can make the drive to the clinic much less distressing for everybody involved! You want the cat to love their carrier.
When the animal perceives a pheromone, it influences the animal’s physiology. It affects the brain, to help the animal feel calmer and relaxed in stressful and anxiety producing situations.
Feliway, sends a message to the cat’s brain that this is a safe place. Adaptil is the pheromone that has a calming and appeasing effect on a puppy but dogs of all ages still respond to this calming message. Pheromones are unique in the way they are perceived by the brain.
They don’t get into the blood stream, they don’t need to be metabolized. They are faster acting than a lot of other options. Because they are naturally occurring in the pets, it is like speaking cat or speaking dog. You are communicating a message to them that they are already biologically prepared to recognize. The other big benefit is, unlike giving a pill, it is easier to present to the animal. The benefits are enormous.
You authored the chapter “Lassie and Timmy: Kids and Dogs” in the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ book Decoding Your Dog, how can parents teach their children to recognize stress or anxiety in the family pet?
Before a parent will ever let a child touch an unknown pet, parents need to first learn to recognize body language in a cat or dog. Children that grow up thinking it is always OK to hug and kiss their own dog, may go to another house and be bitten by a strange dog.
The truth is, the majority of dogs don’t like to be hugged and kissed or have people get in their face. The best rule I can say here is teach children to not pet animals that they don’t know well, until they are old enough to recognize visual cues that animals use too demonstrate that they are anxious or uncomfortable.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
It is an exciting time to be in veterinary medicine, to teach veterinarians and pet owners about behavior and about Ceva’s products. We understand so much more now about behavior and the role that it plays in the health and well-being of a pet. Now with this greater understanding and initiatives like Fear Free, products like Feliway and Adaptil, we can help enrich the lives of both people and pets.