Cats get cabin fever too

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007

Cats, like people, get cabin fever. It's especially bad this year, when snow has so long covered the scents and sounds that delight indoor-outdoor cats. They're bored for lack of stimulation, and like the indoor cats, they're restless because of the long hours of dark.

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Common symptoms of cabin fever include attention-seeking misbehavior, fighting with one another and chewing on houseplants. Except for the latter, this may also describe your kids.

The best antidote for the cats is an interactive play session in the morning and again before you go to bed at night. Twenty minutes, twice a day, usually curbs the fighting and mischief. Give the houseplants a break by planting a couple of pots of grass. Pet stores carry grass seed kits this time of year. You might also turn to your home entertainment center.

Cat Tunes

Legitimate research done in France a decade ago demonstrated that cats are more content when listening to certain types of music.

Cats in the French studies favored soothing music in the middle of the audio range. Solo violins visibly irritated them. Their favorite instrumental pieces featured piano, cello, or guitar.

In vocal music, the French cats' runaway favorites were men's voices in ensemble, notably tracks featuring the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

More recent, informal studies further suggest that cats enjoy double voices and oboes. They're not keen on works for large orchestras or brass instruments.

This knowledge was put to practical use in background music designed to decrease animals' stress in shelters, kennels and veterinary clinics. "Relaxation Music for Dogs and Cats" and other releases by Janet Marlow get good reviews from pet professionals. These albums are collections of "people music" cats like. Some of the recordings have been digitally re-mastered to tone down cat irritants.

Then came recordings pitched at pet owners. Three albums from a firm called Pet Music are designed to help with separation anxiety and stress -- perhaps to play in the car on the way to the vet?

For longhairs, no cat pun intended, there are two all-classical collections, "The World's Best Cat Music CD ... Ever" and "Classical Cats: Music for Your Cat."

The most high tech of the cat music comes from David Parsons, a biomusicologist who worked with "cat charmers" in the Himalayas to identify musical sounds and rhythms appealing to cats. His original compositions for synthesizer emphasize those and include occasional purring and other real feline sounds. "Dancing with Cats" is pleasant listening for both people and cats, but I hide the album cover. I'm afraid the picture on it would convince even my best friends that I'd finally gone over the edge.

Cat Flicks

Enough cats are fascinated by sights and sounds emanating from the TV that humans have created movies just for them. If your cat pays no attention to what's on TV, he'll probably give a big yawn to a made-for-kitty flick. But if Kitty comes running when he hears pet food commercials, sound-engineered to get him to do just that, you have a potential movie buff in the house.

Many cats are drawn to travel shows featuring jungles, forests, and sweeping vistas of rural countryside. They also like Westerns that are long on cattle drives, stampeding buffalo, and galloping horses. A long, talky scene in a frontier saloon is likely to prompt a litter-box break.

My elderly cat Clementine is a big-time fan of Westerns. I admit to occasionally renting one just for her. She doesn't much care if it's in color of black-and-white; the action is the attraction. However, she clearly has two all-time favorite films: Clint Eastwood's "The Unforgiven" (rated R) and the John Wayne classic, "True Grit." Both won Oscars. The old girl's got taste.

• Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. E-mail:

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