A half-century ago, most cats lived outdoors, rarely visited the veterinary clinic, and lacked any commercial toys designed to encourage them to play with a purpose. The year was 1968, and there was not a single cat-only veterinary practice in the country. Funding for feline behavioral research was essentially nonexistent.
You’ve come a long way, kitty, thanks in part to a key cat advocate, the Winn Feline Foundation. This nonprofit organization, established in 1968 with just a $100 donation and named in honor of Robert H. Winn, an attorney and advisor for the Cat Fanciers’ Association, the group that established the foundation, has since provided more than $6 million for feline health and behavioral research.
“When it comes to cats, we are all about funding studies to improve their health and welfare,” says executive director Vicki Thayer, DVM, who became one of the first veterinarians to shift to a cats-only veterinary practice in 1979.
Although this is designated as the Year of the Dog on the Chinese calendar, major strides in feline behavior research continue to occur. The Winn Feline Foundation maintains a close alliance with responsible cat breeders and the Cat Fanciers Association to sponsor studies on behavior and health issues facing popular breeds, including Persians, Siamese, and Maine Coons.
Winn Feline also reaches out to top researchers, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists from leading veterinary schools and companion animal research centers all over the globe to continue identifying specific strategies to improve the lives of cats, especially indoor cats.
“We at Winn Feline definitely support the Fear Free Pets concept not only in veterinary practices but also in homes,” says Dr. Thayer. “We are looking for ways to help reduce stress and fear in cats as well as to help cats feel comfortable and safe in their environments because we know that stress can add a chance of illness in some cats.”
The Winn Feline Foundation remains a go-to resource for educating the cat-loving public on how to bring indoor enrichment to their favorite felines. Click on the Cat Health Articles for the Public on its site, and you’ll find dozens of veterinarian-approved articles covering everything from properly introducing your cat to a new baby or other family member to litter box strategies to effective ways to brush your cat’s teeth.
“The mantra we want to spread to veterinarians and people who adopt cats is to go slow,” says Dr. Thayer. “Take your time. When it comes to interacting with cats, it is best to negotiate and never force. Cats do not like being grabbed or handled too roughly or too quickly. It is better to go slow and make it a more pleasant process.”
She shares these easy tactics to improve the mood – and cooperation – of cats:
- Consider offering small, healthy treats to cats during nail-trimming sessions or times when they need to take medicine to make the experience more pleasant for them.
- Size up your cat’s litter box and location to make sure it is the right size and in a place your cat considers to be safe.
- Think vertically. Adding tall cat trees or sturdy perches for cats to survey their indoor surroundings can add to their feelings of security and confidence.
- Enhance the comfort factor of your cat’s favorite place to nap or hang out. “It’s all about happy cat, happy life,” says Dr. Thayer. “I’ve learned that my cats, Scooby Doo, BB Joe, and Jacklynn, really love down comforters.”
Dr. Thayer believes the focus on the needs of cats will only continue to grow, not only in veterinary medicine, but also in the homes of people with pets. She acknowledges, however, that cats receive only about 20 percent of research dollars compared to dollars earmarked for dog research.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she says. “But with groups like ours, plus the AAFP [American Association of Feline Practitioners] and the CATalyst Council, we are getting the message out on how to meet the care needs of 21st century cats. Plain and simple, cats are good for us and our health. When they sit in our laps and purr, it has been proven that our blood pressure and stress levels go down. Medicine for cats is more evolved now than 50 years ago and more people are into cats and wanting to do what they can ensure their cats have happy, enriched and healthy lives.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.