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What affects cats' health and happiness?

April 28, 2014

Dr. Tony Buffington has spent a career researching the physiological effects of environmental stressors on cats – and applying lessons learned to human suffering. In a new digital book and iTunes U course, he explains the relationship between happiness and good health.

Dr. Tony Buffington is on a mission to improve the standard of living for cats and the owners who love them. 

Buffington, a professor at Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is recognized around the world by researchers and veterinarians alike for his groundbreaking work in linking everyday stressors to feline illnesses, including urinary tract disorders. But he hopes to reach the much broader audience of cat owners through a new digital book and iTunes U course released this month.

“Cat owners want to do the right thing, but there’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet. What we hoped to do was to put in one place some guidelines and suggestions for a new standard of care in the home,” Buffington says.

Cat Mastery “Cat Mastery” offers multiple interactive opportunities

The digital book, “Cat Mastery,” offers multiple interactive opportunities to engage with the material through quizzes, slide decks, videos, diagrams and more. The book illustrates the fundamental components needed to create an environment that keeps cats happy and, therefore, healthy.

Buffington has spent the past 30 years studying cats and how their environment affects their health, authoring more than 100 scientific publications, 30 book chapters and three books. Observing hundreds of cats over the course of years, Buffington and researchers at Ohio State found that bladder disorders and other serious health issues dissipated once cats were placed in an “enhanced environment” that more closely resembled their natural habitat, over which they have greater control.

“Cats are more removed from their natural environment than we are, which means that when cats are exposed to threatening situations in the home, their underlying physical vulnerabilities are exposed,” Buffington says.

Cats can view other family pets, household appliances and even owners as potential predators. When exposed to that stress, weak organs sometimes pay the price.

Through the Indoor Pet Initiative, Buffington and a team of Ohio State researchers have suggested simple steps owners can take to enrich the lives of cats in the home. Where the litter box is placed, places to perch and opportunities to “hunt” in the home are part of creating the enhanced environment where their beloved companions can thrive.

Interestingly, his research with cats has led Buffington to study how stress affects human suffering and contributes to illness.

“It’s about the balance of perception of control to perception of threat,” Buffington explains. “As long as the brain believes it is more in control than threatened, things are OK. That goes for all mammalian species.”

Buffington’s “Cat Mastery” and complementary iTunes U Course are products of Ohio State’s Digital First initiative, which is redesigning the learning experience on campus and beyond by optimizing emerging wireless and mobile technologies. Led by the Office of Distance Education & eLearning, the impact of Digital First can be seen far and wide – from the iBooks faculty and staff have authored for use at the university to the more than 2.4 million iTunes course downloads to date. 

"Dr. Buffington is an example of Ohio State’s incredible intellectual power. Now, with ‘Cat Mastery,’ his wit and wisdom are accessible to a worldwide audience. The technology behind the digital book and iTunes U course will expand the reach of Ohio State well beyond the original vision of a land grant institution and engage new learners for both academic knowledge and individual curiosity,” says Mike Hofherr, vice president and chief information officer.

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Read more: Dr. Tony Buffington discusses what he's learned from cats in the decades he's spent studying them in a Buckeye Voices blog.

AMA: Buffington is kicking off the release of "Cat Mastery" with a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session at 1:30 p.m. April 28.

Supporting learners everywhere: Learn more about the role the Office of Distance Education and eLearning and Digital First initiative are playing in Ohio State's mission to disseminate knowledge.