Leonidas and Rosie

Cat Tips

Cats love to play with rubber bands, milk rings, string, pins, needles and even dental floss, but these tiny “toys” can be dangerous for your pet. Be sure to keep them out of paw's reach.

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Ask Our Cat Experts

Believe or not, some cats just aren’t drawn to catnip. Here’s why.

Catnip, which is a member of the mint family, is an herb that was originally imported from the Mediterranean. Many cats go crazy for catnip because of the oils present in the stems, leaves and flowers. The chemical is very similar to the odor of a female cat in heat, which explains why male tomcats are most affected by catnip.

Dr. Cathy Lund of City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats in Providence, RI, explains, “The mint produces a weird, euphoric state, and about 50% of all cats are sensitive to its effects. Catnip is hallucinogenic and narcotic-like, and it acts as a dis-inhibitor, which is why cats get so wacky when they are under its influence.”

If your cat is not interested in catnip, don’t worry -- genetics actually determine if catnip will affect your cat. “If your cat is one of the 50% of cats who are not sensitive to the herb, then it won't have any appeal whatsoever,” Dr. Lund said. “And catnip never affects kittens until they are older than 3 months of age.”

If your cat is one of those who isn’t interested in catnip, there is another natural alternative that your cat may enjoy. “The only naturally-occurring herb that can induce a similar response in the genetically susceptible cats is valerian,” says Dr. Lund. “This herb is commonly found in homeopathic relaxation and anti-stress remedies.”

You might be tempted to feed your cat homemade food to save a little bit of money … but is it safe?

Q: Can I Feed my Cat Homemade Food?

A: The short answer is yes, says Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, but the more accurate answer is: I don’t know … can you?

That’s because while it’s possible to feed your cat homemade food, it’s not actually easy. “Fewer reputable options exist to guide pet owners for cats than they do for dogs, and if you get it wrong, the result can be deadly,” says the vet.

In fact, in the late 1980s it was discovered that a lot of domestic cats were contracting a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopthy (or heart disease) because of a deficiency in their diets of an Amino Acid called Taurine. “Since then, commercial diets have supplemented all cat foods with Taurine, and the illness has all but disappeared,” said Dr. Chavez. “This is just one example of what can go wrong if you get the diet wrong.”

Something else to keep in mind: cats are what’s referred to as ‘obligate carnivores’ – meaning meat is a necessity to keep them healthy. “They must eat meat, no exceptions,” said Dr. Chavez. “So forget about a vegetarian or vegan diet for them!”

For all of those reasons, Dr. Chavez strongly recommends working very closely with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist before switching your cat to a homemade diet … or just skipping it altogether. 

How Can I Curb My Cat's Aggression Towards Other People?

When guests come to your home, you want them to feel comfortable and for your cat behave.  If instead your cat tends to act out around other people, there may be a specific reason, and you can learn how to help him overcome this behavior.

Aimee Gilbreath, Executive Director of Found Animals Foundation, www.foundanimals.org, explains some possible reasons your cat is acting out. “Most likely they were not socialized with enough human interaction when they were kittens, thus are fearful of those who are not their owner,” she said. “Or they may have previously had a bad experience with a stranger who frightened them or played too rough.”

Sometimes the cause of aggression can actually be injury. If your cat is acting hostile towards guests in your home, he could be trying to communicate that something is wrong. If the aggression is ongoing, bring him in for a check-up with your vet so that any medical issues can be ruled out.

If it turns out your cat is just anti-stranger, try asking guests to stay away from your cat when they first arrive. This will allow her time to gradually warm up and come over when she is ready. “Giving your guests one of your cat’s favorite toys or treats to give to her once she does approach, or to leave near the place she is hiding, will help your cat make the connection that this stranger equals good things,” says Gilbreath.

In the event that your cat’s aggression plays out as him jumping on your guests, it’s important to curb this behavior immediately. To stop him, Gilbreath suggests firming telling him ‘no,’ then moving to the water bottle, giving him a quick squirt (never in the face) to deter him. “After a few squirts, he should get the message and stop as soon as he sees the bottle,” she said.

Your cat may also hiss, which is a warning that she is afraid, bothered or nervous.  Giving your cat space to relax will help calm the aggressive behavior. If you know you have an aggressive kitten, read this piece for more advice on how to handle that.

It goes without saying that the key to helping your cat feel comfortable is patience. It is important to try to figure out why your cat is upset in order to fix the problem. And remember -- punishment is not the answer. Instead, use some redirection to help calm your cat and provide your guests with a pleasant visit.

My cat has stopped being interested in playing. What could this mean?

When a cat who has previously been playful suddenly doesn’t feel like frolicking, there could be cause for concern, says Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance. While dogs are usually fairly good at letting us know they have a problem, cats tend to be more “private” in their expressions of illness. Since cats evolved as largely solitary, territorial animals, they tend to hide signs of pain and discomfort, and often the first signs pet parents see are persistent changes in behavior, including sleeping more or eating less. It might be easy to surmise that he’s become bored by his toys or he’s just getting older (or lazier!), but these changes could actually signify that something is wrong. A visit to the veterinarian would be the best way to rule out any health concerns that might be bothering your feline friend.

Of course if your cat’s physical comes up clean, you’ll have to consider other things. Have there been any changes to the family schedule that might be leaving him out of sorts? Have you introduced any new family members, either two- or four-footed? Is there any construction occurring in the home, or strangers in and out of the house? It could even be something as seemingly minor as re-arranging the furniture or moving his litter box. So think carefully about changes to his environment that might be putting him off his game, and talk to your vet about how to help get him back into it.

How Can I Get My Cat to Stop Ripping Up the Furniture?

While you consider your cat to be a true member of your family, you don’t want him to destroy the furniture in your home. And while in a perfect world you could get your cat to stop scratching entirely, it’s important to remember that scratching surfaces is a natural behavior for cats. Tera Bruegger, director of Hearts United for Animals explains, “Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, and one reason is to sharpen claws or shed the outer layers of the claws.”

The first step in helping to curb your cat’s appetite to scratch is making sure her claws are trimmed. After that, an easy way to try to deter your cat from scratching is adding double stick tape to the areas of your furniture that your cat tends to get at. Cats don’t like the feeling of the tape on their paws, and thereby try to avoid areas that give them those sensations.

Of course if you’re in the market to buy new furniture, you might consider picking out materials that fend off cat scratching in the first place.

Other products like spray deterrents can help to stop your cat from scratching, too, and scratching posts are a great option to steer your cat away from your furniture. Bruegger suggests putting a scratching post near the area where your cat scratches, and when she begins to do so, make a noise and put the cat near the scratching post instead. When the cat scratches the post/box, praise him by petting him, and perhaps even offering a treat.

I have a brother and sister cat, and the male cat won’t allow the female to eat in peace. How can I change this behavior?

Your situation is a fairly common one for multi-cat households. Related to the other cats or not, some cats will simply pig out on food at the expense of others. Often, male cats will do this to females, but I've seen many large female cats hold their food ground when challenged by others. The behavior probably extends to other scenarios as well, with your male cat taking charge of toys, lap time and various coveted things. While it's natural for some felines to hold this "top cat" position, you can do a lot to mediate the resulting problems. First, feed your cats in two different areas. Provide the food at specific times and places, so the male can't just move from one spot to another. While he's enjoying his chow in one area, your female can be savoring her meal at another location. Sometimes this means feeding your cats in different rooms, but you can also try separating the bowls a good distance from one another within the same room. Or try placing the food at different levels if your cats are young and healthy enough to jump. Whichever solution you choose, it's important to accustom your cats to eating out of their own assigned bowls. Later on, your pets could develop health and weight issues that may require different specific diets

How can I keep my cat from trying to get out when we open the door?

There is a lot of talk about outdoor versus indoor cats. As you may know, indoor-only cats enjoy a greater overall life span. Outdoor felines often succumb to any number of threats: disease, fighting with other animals, cars, poisons and more. It's therefore best to keep your cat inside. Keeping an eye on entrances is important, no matter what kind of doors you have. Remind human guests that you have an indoor-only cat by taping written alerts next to all doors that guests will be using. You can train your cat to avoid the door area, but a better long-term plan is to make its indoor living more appealing. If your cat is busy and mentally stimulated inside your home, it will lose its desire to explore the outdoors. Make sure you set aside time each day for playtime. Buy a good cat tree, provide kitty greens for nibbling and offer a sunny spot with a view of the outside, perhaps overlooking a well-visited birdbath or feeder. Some owners also install screened-in porches so their cats can enjoy the fresh air while being protected from outside dangers.

Patches is four months old and is just starting to have episodes where his back and ears twitch. He shakes his head and chews and bites his whole body before hiding under the furniture. Is he just scared?

If your cat was only running and hiding under your furniture, then I would suspect feeling "scared" was the probable main reason. The combination of actions you describe, however, sounds like a more complex problem. It's quite possible that your cat is feeling scared, but it's probably because he's not feeling well. A trip to the veterinarian is in order to properly diagnose the problem. Based on what you've written, Patches may be suffering from two types of parasites: fleas and ear mites. Both can cause the body twitching, biting and head shaking that you describe. Clues to the presence of fleas are small black specks, also known as "flea dirt," in your cat's coat. Ear mites are a different parasite. They can live in your cat's ear canal and cause irritation if they are present in large enough numbers. Related excess scratching, infections and hematomas (blood blisters) can all result and may lead to permanent problems, so it's best that your cat gets examined by a veterinarian soon.

Our kitten is ten weeks old, and it tears around rooms attacking leather chairs and curtains until it’s exhausted. We play with our pet, but it won’t calm down. Any suggestions?

Some cats go through their own rambunctious period, and yours appears to be one of them. This period usually occurs when a kitten is eight to 15 weeks old. During this time, full weaning takes place, all baby teeth erupt and hormones surge. It is a critical period of growth and development for your cat, with another key stage occurring at 15 to 18 weeks of age. It is concerning, however, that your cat is releasing its playful energy in negative ways, as evidenced by your scratched chairs and curtains. It sounds like you are a dutiful caretaker, but just be sure that when you purchase a cat tree and toys, you spend time introducing them to your kitten. Catnip can help grab your kitten's attention if your pet is catnip-sensitive. While redirecting the kitten's attention to toys, you also need to discourage bad behavior. A squirt of water from a spray bottle or a short loud noise, such as a whistle, often does the trick. You might also have to cover furniture you wish to protect, or spray it with a kitty repellent. (Not all materials can be sprayed, however.) In addition to playing with your kitten, spend some quiet time with it too. Just as humans need to learn to meditate, cats sometimes must learn to enjoy calm periods. Give your kitten a relaxing massage after playtime, for example, to help it settle down.

Whenever my kitty sees me, he slowly lifts his front paw and leaves it hanging there like it’s broken. He’s not hurt, and he only does this with me. What can this mean?

The gesture you mention has not been fully studied and documented by cat behaviorists or featured in a major peer-reviewed journal. But there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence from cat owners like you suggesting that cats use this gesture to attract your attention. The stance may have evolved from the gentle "tap" some cats give their owners with retracted claws, which is somewhat comparable to a person tapping you on the shoulder. (This is all assuming your cat is indeed not hurt and has been fully examined by his veterinarian.) Has your cat ever played a game involving that paw? Felines have an incredible memory, so your pet could be recalling some past activity. Far more common is when cats stretch in front of, or even on, their owners. That's not always just a sign that your cat is tired or waking up. Like a dog play bow, cat stretches can serve as a respectful greeting and may mean that your cat is ready for some fun quality time with you.

Where can I go to get my cat its shots without running up a large veterinary bill for things I don’t think are necessary?

Where can I go to get my cat its shots without running up a large veterinary bill for things I don’t think are necessary?

Talk to your veterinarian about his or her health recommendations for your cat. Share your concerns and have your veterinarian clarify the hierarchy of importance of their recommendation. Together you can decide how to best approach your cat's health. The above having been said, low-cost vaccinations are available through many humane societies, pet stores and other organizations. The nation's largest provider of affordable vaccinations in pet stores is LuvMyPet. You can locate a clinic near your area by visiting LuvMyPet.com.

I adopted a 2-year-old male cat last month, and I’m having trouble finding toys he’s interested in, especially toys he can play with on his own. Any ideas?

Congratulations on adopting an adult cat. Adult felines often make the best housemates, and yet they are so often overlooked at shelters and rescue facilities. One reason felines make such good pets is that they are smart -- often too smart for most cat toys. Cats are very in tune with their senses, so if something doesn't smell, look and sound natural and interesting, they generally ignore it. Toys filled with good, strong catnip might grab your feline's attention every so often. If catnip does nothing for your pet, try toys stuffed with dried honeysuckle. Frisky cats might chase any mechanical mouse or similar toy, but I've found that many of these toys make a horrible motor sound when they move, scaring some felines to death. The best toys of this type move in an unpredictable manner and keep going even when they hit an obstacle. Cat toys most popular with felines require owner participation. If you're interested in a toy, your cat will likely investigate it too. Perennial favorites include classics like Da Bird, Kitten Mitten, the Cat Dancer and laser toys. Manufacturers are now making similar products (like Panic Mouse) that are attached to a motor so the pole toy jerks around by itself. You might consider such a toy to keep your cat busy when you are at work or asleep. I also recommend looking at Web sites of major pet stores. Most allow readers to rate individual toys, so you can see which toys were a hit with other cats.

My Siamese cat has been howling and meowing every night for a year. What can I do?

The sleek and regal Siamese is one of the world's oldest known cat breeds, but they are definitely not famous for being quiet. If your male Siamese has not been neutered, take care of that ASAP, since mating cycles can trigger excessive meowing. A veterinary visit can also rule out health issues that could cause frequent vocalizing, such as hyperthyroidism and hearing loss. Most likely your boy is just naturally quite vocal. Try playing with him close to bedtime. Offer catnip-scented toys if he responds to catnip, or honeysuckle-scented ones if he does not react to catnip. These herbs excite cats initially, but then seem to make felines a bit drowsy once the mild kitty buzz wears down. Any sort of playtime will do, however, as the goal is to work off some of your cat's energy so that he won't feel inclined to do that while you're sleeping.

Catnip does nothing for my cat. Could I be buying the wrong kind, or is there something wrong with my cat?

Only about half of the cat population is sensitive to catnip, so your cat is in good company and is likely fine. The potent chemical in catnip -- a fragrant member of the mint family -- is nepetalactone. It triggers head rubbing, rolling, leaping and all sorts of playful behaviors in catnip-sensitive felines. If your cat does react to catnip, try growing the plant yourself. Organic catnip is the best option. When dried, it will store for months in an airtight container. The catnip "high" lasts only about 15 minutes, however. By that time, most cats eat the herb, become covered with the stuff or seem to just get bored. Cats that don't react to catnip often go bonkers over dried honeysuckle. Just be sure to never provide your cat with honeysuckle berries, as those are considered poisonous to felines. Some manufacturers, such as Kitty Kottage, are now offering cat-safe toys stuffed with honeysuckle for these catnip non-cravers. It sounds like yours is one of them, so honeysuckle-scented toys might be your best option.

I have adopted seven cats, with no major problems resulting from my mega-multi-cat household. But how many cats do you think are too many?

It's great to hear about your thriving multi-cat household. If you have sufficient room, access to veterinarians to consult with, and a well-organized system to care for the cats, this is a great way to save cats that may have otherwise been euthanized. We all, however, are familiar with media reports about irresponsible, sometimes troubled, owners who have far too many pets than they can properly manage. Conversely, just one cat could be too many for certain individuals lacking the time, space, funds and other feline necessities. So there is no right or wrong precise cat number limit, since there are too many variables to consider. Dr. Nicholas Dodman of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recently addressed this very subject at petplace.com. He shared that inappropriate urination and other behavioral problems can surface if an owner has more than 10 cats. In his view, around 10 may therefore be "the magic number."

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/skynesher

How can I keep my cat off the furniture?

To your cat, your home is like an urban jungle, and that includes all your furniture and other accessible goodies. Cats are quite practical, however, so the furniture likely holds some function for your feline: easier transportation (such as marching over a coffee table to get to a chair), sleeping area (as on a comfy sofa) or surface for scratching claws.

To keep your cat off any item, make it unattractive to your pet and provide a better alternative. Scratching on a couch or wooden furniture is probably the worst kitty offense; the most important preventive measure in this case is to regularly trim your cat's claws. This helps your pet, since claws can get caught in material. It'll help you too, by preventing couch and curtain rips.

Cats hate the feel and smell of tinfoil and sticky tape, so you can try placing these on areas your cat targets. If possible, spray an odor-neutralizing solution -- sold at pet stores. Since cats usually return to places where they've left their scent, the sprays might throw them off. If you need to protect the fabric of a chair or couch, place a blanket over the furniture temporarily and then spray with the odor neutralizer or a citrus-scented spray, such as one containing orange oil. Cats usually hate citrus smells -- the volatile oils in the fruit rind evolved, in part, to deter curious and hungry animals.

Finally, consider purchasing a cat tree that offers good places for claw scratching, as well as one or more cubbyholes or perches. Place the tree in an area frequented by your cat and sprinkle it with catnip. Make sure the tree is stable and will not tip over when your cat hops on it.

When should a kitten get its first shots?

Kittens typically receive their first round of shots when they are 8 to 9 weeks old. Most vaccinations prevent illness by introducing a small amount of the disease-causing organism into the individual’s body. This stimulates the immune system, leading to the creation of antibodies that can protect your cat against a possible, more full-blown version of the disease. The antibodies diminish over time, so your kitten will need booster shots throughout its life. Your veterinarian will advise you as to when these are needed.

Usually, that first round of shots is a single “cocktail” that will help safeguard your pet against three diseases: feline panleukopenia, which is a contagious and often deadly viral disease; feline rhinotracheitis, which can cause acute respiratory illness; and feline calicivirus, another viral illness that can create severe respiratory problems.

Your veterinarian will likely advise that you have your kitten tested for feline leukemia. You may also need to vaccinate your cat against rabies, as that is required in some states. No vaccination is 100 percent effective, however, so it is a good idea to keep your cat inside at all times, with limited exposure to screens and windows that may have been marked by outdoor animals. Distemper and rabies are just two of the many illnesses that spread more easily to outdoor cats. Your indoor-only kitty will also avoid all of the other obvious outdoor dangers, such as cars and garden poisons.

I have a 16-year-old cat that hates to be brushed. Do you have any suggestions?

If your senior kitty was not regularly brushed at an early age, or if it had a bad experience during a grooming session, it could now be brush-phobic. Here are some tips: First, buy a good-quality brush appropriate for your cat’s type of fur. For example, pin brushes are good for long-haired coats, and soft-bristled brushes work better on shorthairs. Start the session by holding your cat and petting it as it prefers. With slow, gentle movements, introduce the brush without your cat seeing it. While your cat is facing forward on your lap, begin to brush its back area on each side, avoiding the more sensitive spine. Always brush from front to back, in the direction of your cat’s fur growth. Don’t pull on tangles -- which elderly long-haired felines are prone to get, since they can’t always groom themselves properly. It’s better to snip off tangles, far away from your cat’s skin, rather than brush through them. If your cat begins to get antsy, stop the grooming session and try it again at another time. The goal is to get your cat to associate such moments with pleasant experiences. Stay relaxed and quiet, always using gentle brushstrokes, because your cat is very sensitive to your own emotions and behaviors. Cats have extraordinary memories for both positive and negative experiences. When your cat learns to link brush time to good times, your problem will be solved.

I have a fixed adult male cat that starts fights with my other cats. How can I get him to stop?

I’m glad that your cat has been neutered, as that procedure helps to curb aggression in male felines. The timing of the neutering can also be important, since males neutered before sexual maturity -- at around 6 months -- are less likely to spray urine, roam and fight. Observe your cats to see if you can pinpoint what instigates the fighting. Sometimes cats will fight over food, a favorite resting spot, toys or other items. Keep a squirt bottle full of water handy to break up the fights. This may help to discourage the bouts from occurring in the first place. You may have to call in a cat behavior specialist, but before you do that, try redirecting your male cat’s aggression. Spend time playing with him to work off his excess energy. It’s better that he pounces on a pole toy feather or a mechanical mouse than on one of your other cats.

I rescued a cat earlier this year, but now my other 4-year-old cat lacks any loving, playful behaviors. What can I do?

Since your two cats have been living together for a while, you most likely had a successful introduction and that your cats are coexisting without serious hostility issues. Any kind of feline behavioral change, such as decreased energy and affection, can sometimes result from underlying medical problems, so first have this cat examined by your veterinarian to rule out health issues. Cats in the wild are solitary hunters, so they’re keen on protecting their turf from other cats. Before you brought in your new cat, your existing one probably had a quiet, secure dining area, bed, toys and more. Now it has this “invader” cat to deal with. Sometimes, cats bond with each other quickly, similar to love/friendship-at-first-sight for humans, but other times they just learn to tolerate each other, or even stay enemies. All cats have their own personality and foibles, just as we do. Make your longer-term cat feel more secure by ensuring that it still has its own space in your house, in terms of a bed, litter box, food bowl and toys. Pay attention to the time that you are devoting to both cats. Felines will generally mirror back whatever love and attention you give to them. And try to involve both cats in playtime activities, perhaps spending a bit of extra time with the more withdrawn feline first to engage its interest.

My 2-year-old cat has started to drag dirty clothes and bedding from the upstairs of my home and from the downstairs laundry area. Why?

Young cats like yours can sometimes do all sorts of wacky things, like drag shoes around the house, jump on curtains or even snatch and shred tissues out of boxes. All of these behaviors are simply boredom busters for your playful cat.

To work off some of that excess energy, schedule more productive, controlled playtimes with your cat. Usually felines will be predictably energetic at certain times of the day and sleepy at other periods. If possible, arrange the play sessions when your cat is at its friskiest. Pole toys, catnip-scented mice (if your cat is sensitive to catnip) and tossing around a few pieces of hard food could keep your cat active and engaged.

One other thought is that you could be inadvertently training your cat to misbehave. Like children, cats crave attention, be it good or bad. Whenever your cat drags down the laundry, you probably approach your pet and scold it. To your previously ignored cat, however, that might not be so bad. Sometimes ignoring misbehavior -- so long as you can secure your laundry in a good, covered basket -- resolves the problem.

My cat doesn’t want to be touched or picked up. It’s like he’s afraid of me, but he usually loves to be held. What did I do?

Cats are creatures of habit, so any change in a cat’s behavior can be cause for concern. Your cat could be afraid that you’ll hurt him when you touch or pet him. That may be the case if he is injured or ill. There are times when you feel sick and do not want people around you. Cats are the same way, except they withdraw even more when they feel ill.

Four things almost always cause chronic anxiety in cats: illness, pain, fear or a change in your cat’s routine. More than one of these can be at work at a time. Assuming that your cat is in good health, something about you or the environment you share with your cat might have changed. Obvious answers are a new roommate, pet or house move, but even subtle changes can bother savvy felines.

Cats also have incredible memories when it comes to negative stimulation. If you accidentally once hurt your cat when you petted it, he may remember that moment for a long time. You may need to reinforce bonding with your pet by setting aside daily play periods with favorite toys -- such as a kitty pole toy -- and quietly approaching him for regular gentle head rubs and massages.

My cat is now 14 years old, and although the scale says he’s not losing weight, he is starting to look bony. He has also started to bite me every time I pet him. Why is he doing this now?

First, make sure you are weighing your cat correctly on the scale. An easy method is to simply step on a scale by yourself and note your own weight. Then pick up your cat and step on the scale. Subtract your weight from the total to get a rough estimate of your cat’s weight. If your cat gains or loses just half a pound in a week, that can be cause for concern.

Your cat is in his senior years, so his body is likely undergoing many changes in terms of muscle mass and other internal processes. This could explain the “bony” feel without actual weight loss. However, a change in body feel can be linked to cancer and other serious illnesses, so it’s crucial to take your cat to your veterinarian for a complete examination.

Your cat’s change in behavior is concerning as well. Cats can’t yell “stop it” when they feel pain, so his biting could indicate that he is feeling some discomfort when you touch him. Consult your veterinarian, who can examine these issues and rule out health problems that could be the cause of all of the symptoms you describe.

Is it normal for a cat to lose whiskers? I’ve noticed an increase in lost whiskers on my cat. She’s about 6 years old, indoor only and Siamese. No change in her diet or environment has taken place.

Like cat fur and human hair, feline whiskers continuously grow, fall out and get replaced with new ones. This is quite normal. Minus injury, health problems or defects, all cats possess 12 whiskers on each side of the muzzle, for a total of 24. Technically called “vibrissae,” the whiskers are very sensitive and can do everything from gauge wind direction to detect movement under extreme low-light conditions. A little-known fact is that when a cat hunts a mouse or other prey, it can push its whiskers into a more forward position to focus in on the movements of its target.

You say, however, that you’ve noticed “an increase in lost whiskers.” Sudden loss of many whiskers at a time can be a symptom of infection and other health problems. Usually other symptoms, such as weight loss and lethargy, are evident as well. Should you have any doubts, a visit to your veterinarian is in order.

One last bit of advice is to never cut or unnecessarily touch your cat’s whiskers. Because whiskers are highly sensitive, these actions could cause your pet discomfort. Your cat also needs its whiskers for proper daily function, so just let them be and only admire them from afar.

My cat is overweight, so I avoid giving her treats between her regular meals. Treats are so often recommended, but what else can I use when attempting to train her?

When training your cat, the goal is for her to associate a certain desired behavior with a reward. To some extent, humans are no different. We’re more inclined to do something if we know a reward -- be it monetary, edible or verbal praise -- is coming. Cats, of course, love to eat, so food is an easy option. But in situations where you want to avoid extra edible handouts, try clicker training combined with verbal praise and extra attention.

Let’s say you are trying to teach your cat to sit. When your cat adopts the proper position after you say “sit,” immediately click the clicker and offer the praise. Studies show that cats respond to “sweet talk,” technically called “motherese,” which is similar to what we use when communicating with babies and kids. So, verbally praise her and then pet her, focusing on her favorite areas for massage.

Cats can quickly learn to associate sounds with expected consequences. Over time, your cat will know to sit when it hears the command and the clicker. Cats will often even behave when they hear the clicker alone, just as you may work overtime even when your boss forgets to praise you. You might stop when the rewards end, though, and your cat will too.

My cat, Videl, constantly hisses and growls at the older cat my sister brought home, and they inevitably get into fights. What can I do to get her used to the new pet?

Bringing an older female cat into a home with an established male is comparable to someone suddenly throwing you into an arranged marriage that you never asked for. Both cats could feel threatened and probably want their privacy back.

Normally, I would advise you to bring home the new cat -- your sister’s pet -- in a closed carrier, which Videl could explore while the older female feels safe. You could still try that, but it may not work as effectively since the two cats are already cohabitating. Each cat should have its own dish, litter box, bed and toys so they’re not in competition for these necessities. Both cats should also be fixed.

Over time, Videl and the other cat may come to accept each other as part of the territory. When that happens, and your sister’s cat learns that Videl isn’t out to get her, she should relax quite a bit. But just as not all people can live together in perfect harmony, not all cats can get along with each other, particularly when they are adults set in their ways. Try to be patient and to make their lives as comfortable as possible during the adjustment period.

My 5-year-old cat has decided to eliminate in places other than the litter box, including the kitchen cabinet. He is not an only cat but has never had a problem before. What should I do?

Your concern, both for your cat and your kitchen cabinet, is understandable! The problem does not revolve around your cat’s attraction to your kitchen cabinet but instead has to do with why your cat is rejecting the previously established litter box.

First, if you haven’t already done so, schedule a visit with your veterinarian to rule out health problems that can cause a cat to reject the litter box. These may include urinary tract or bladder issues, infections, medications, parasites and more. Elderly cats often get arthritis or other age-related health problems that can affect litter box usage, but since your cat is only 5, these problems are most likely not the case.

Make sure each of your cats has its own clean litter box. Frequently scoop the boxes clean and change the litter as directed by the manufacturer. If you’ve recently changed litter brands, your cat may not like the new litter’s smell or texture.

Finally, you can retrain your cat to use his litter box by keeping your pet in its own comfy, closed-off room for a few days. Make sure the room contains food, water, his favorite toys and scratchers, and of course, a clean litter box. Without access to your kitchen cabinet and no other attractive options in sight, he should get into the habit of using his box again. Use this time to also thoroughly clean your kitchen cabinet so your cat won’t recognize his scent there when he’s allowed back into the rest of your home.

How soon after my cat has given birth can I have her spayed?

If you live with a cat, having her spayed (or him neutered) is one of the most responsible actions you can take. With so many orphaned and homeless kittens available, preventing unwanted pregnancies is extremely important. And having your cat spayed or neutered will help curtail roaming, fighting and other undesired behaviors that can lead to injury or even death.

You should first consult with your veterinarian for the ideal time to have your cat spayed. If all health parameters are in order, the vet may recommend the procedure near weaning (three-to-four weeks after delivery) in order to prevent another pregnancy. In some cases the procedure can be done earlier, but again, the matter should be discussed with your vet.

If your cat is not spayed, she will be more likely to develop mammary tumors and uterine infections. Early spaying is key in preventing these, and other, health problems. It is not important for cats to have a litter of kittens first, as this offers absolutely no health or behavioral benefits. Many veterinarians recommend spaying and neutering at an early age, prior to the first heat cycle.

Ever since I got a new kitten, my 1-year-old cat hates to be petted or held and will not cuddle or get near me. Does she feel like she’s been replaced?

Good for you for adding another cat to your family. It’s important to note, however, that unlike dogs, cats are not true pack animals and cooperative hunters. Wild cats hunt by themselves and spend a fair amount of time protecting their personal turf.

Your adult cat had her lap, her toys, her food, her litter box and so on, and sharing these things with your knew kitten is most likely not easy for her. Multiple cats will typically negotiate territories with each other, even if they get along. Your older cat likely doesn’t think she’s been replaced but rather that she has to be a bit more wary. You probably also spent a lot of time with your new kitten, so your adult cat may now be conditioned to expect less attention from you.

Try to engage both your cats in activities that you can all enjoy together, such as playing with a fishing-pole toy. Make sure all is well at dinner and litter box time. Your older cat may also be reacting to your kitten’s scent, which serves as a territorial marker, so you could try washing your hands and laying down a fresh lap blanket when spending time with your older cat.

My 4-year-old cat is so out of control when she goes to the vet, they said they would have to sedate her in order to give her a rabies shot. What are my options?

For a cat to feel fully comfortable around humans, it must be socialized -- or exposed to positive, human-related encounters and experiences. These should ideally occur before the age of 9 months. If kittens don’t become imprinted with such events early on, veterinarian visits may seem alien and frightening. That’s when your pet’s fight-or-flight response kicks into high gear.

In the short term, your cat needs its rabies shot and other health care treatments. Some veterinarians bring in an assistant who can hold the cat by the scruff of its neck and/or wrap a towel around parts of the cat while the veterinarian administers vaccines. Sedating a cat can lead to health risks, so you may wish to find a veterinarian who handles feral and otherwise unruly cats in another manner. Hospitals associated with local Humane Societies often deal with a wide variety of cats, so consider contacting these facilities first. Just remember that sedation will allow a more in-depth examination of your cat, and could potentially identify health concerns that might now otherwise be picked up.

In the long term, gradually socialize your now-adult cat. When grooming, for example, buy a soft-tipped brush and very gently run it across your cat’s fur, approaching from behind so your cat does not see you reaching over its head, which can appear threatening. Stop to offer praise and treats. Allow your cat to associate grooming with rewards and other pleasantries. It will take time for that association to become fixed in your cat’s memory, so please be patient with your skittish friend.

Why do cats seem to love strong-smelling food?

You may have many things in common with your cat, but the degree to which you smell and taste is not included on that list. You have 9,000 taste buds on your tongue; the taste buds work with your sense of smell to send information about the food you’re eating to your brain. This process allows you to savor various flavors.

The system is somewhat reversed in cats, which have a very keen sense of smell but fewer taste buds. Your cat only possesses 473 of these flavor detectors on its tongue, which is one reason why it never meows for dessert after dinner. Cats can’t perceive sweet tastes like humans can, but they do enjoy pungent fishy flavors and odors along with strong-smelling and -tasting meats. If the food is fresh and sold by a trusted manufacturer, rest assured that your cat’s nose knows quality chow.

I avoid touching my cat's whiskers because I've read they can be very sensitive. Is that true?

Some cat owners think their pets' whiskers are just like thick hair, but cat whiskers are actually very sensitive organs. They help to protect your cat's eyes and other vulnerable facial features. Additionally, they extend past the face so your cat can survey the dimensions of a space before fully exploring it. If the area passes your cat's "whisker test," your feline may then continue to move forward, sometimes squeezing its body through tight places.

Recent studies suggest cat whiskers perform an even more amazing feat: They appear to be able to sense prey, such as a mouse, even without touching the other animal. This may be due to heat, airflow or other motion changes the sensitive whiskers detect.

Touching your cat's whiskers when your cat is relaxed and enjoying some quality time with you will likely not cause your pet any discomfort. It is best, however, to avoid touching the whiskers unnecessarily. And don't worry if your cat sheds one or two whiskers from time to time. That's normal since the whiskers undergo regular, natural replacement.

One of my three cats recently died, and now one of my female cats seems to be very depressed. Could she be in mourning?

Cats, like humans, seem to exhibit different reactions after another pet dies. Some will appear to mope around and lack energy. Others may become more vocal and anxious, perhaps going from room to room seeking out the missing cat. Finally, some cats may even stop eating and hang around you or any other remaining animals more.

In 1996, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project to investigate this very issue. Unfortunately, this study focused on dogs alone, but pet experts suspect the findings could apply to cats as well. The study determined that 63 percent of dogs vocalized more after another dog died. Some 36 percent ate less than usual, with 11 percent stopping eating altogether for a time.

Monica Chretien, an animal behavior consultant, advises that if your cat is displaying these signs of mourning, you should try to spend more time with her. It can help to vary her routine in desired, stimulating ways, such as by inviting over her favorite other human friends (cats too, if she tolerates such company), bringing in a few new toys, and perhaps playing hide-and-seek with some of her favorite food treats. If your cat was always one of a pair, or you had even more cats in the home, you might consider adopting another to provide a companion for your existing pet.

If your cat seems particularly down and just can’t rally out of it, be sure to have her examined by a veterinarian. An underlying health issue could be behind some of the problems, possibly in addition to the depression. Your vet can prescribe antianxiety medication, but if the issue really is mourning, your cat should come out of the blues before long.

Why do cats get stuck in tall trees? If they can climb a tree, can't they get back down?

Most cats cannot descend a tree safely, because it's easier for a cat to climb up, using its claws and muscular hindquarters. When descending, the cat must rely upon its weaker front paws, with claws naturally facing in the wrong direction. A cat left to its own devices may even try to back down a tree.

This problem usually occurs when something or someone frightens the cat. A tall tree may provide the only means of escape. Some owners have even resorted to calling their local fire department to help get their cat down without injury. A better solution is to keep your cat inside, where the risk posed by tree climbing is eliminated.

How does tail movement communicate my cat's mood?

We tend to think of communication as just being language-based, but animals exhibit other cues that function similar to language. Your cat's tail, for example, is like a mood ring, because you can look at it to help determine how your cat is feeling. Here are some basic tail moves and their meanings:

  • Upright and/or pointed toward you Your cat is feeling confident and is open to bonding with you.

  • Moving side to side If your cat is anxious, its tail will swish around and may even thump the floor. Stress has set in, so it's best to let your cat have some alone time.

  • Tail hair erect When fur stands on end, it makes your cat look bigger, so this is a defensive mechanism kicking in, usually when your cat is afraid or is ready to attack. Cats do not often get to this stage with their owners. You're more likely to see the happier, upright tail position.

I've read that cats don't like it when you stare at them. Is this true and does that mean looking away relaxes them?

That's partly true. Cats do become anxious when stared at for any length of time. In the wild, this can be a sign of aggression or intimidation that may ultimately lead to a big catfight. Looking away is preferable to a kitty stare-down, but here's something even better to try:

Look into your cat's eyes and then blink slowly. Pet your cat and offer verbal praise after you do this a few times. If your cat also blinks at you by batting both eyes shut, feel flattered: It's a sign of affection and comfort in the feline world!

I travel quite a bit and want to get a second cat so mine will have company. How can I safely introduce a new kitten to my cat, especially as she tends to not get along well with other felines?

Cats aren't pack animals, so it's normal for your cat to immediately show hostility. Being territorial animals, cats also are driven to attack unfamiliar felines that enter their turf.

If you want to add a second cat, gradually introduce it to your pet over the course of a couple of weeks. During this period, house the newcomer in a separate "safe" room with food, water, a litter box and cozy hiding places. This will allow the kitten to get its bearings in its new home.

Let the cats get to know each other one sense at a time. First, they'll hear each other through the door. Next, take a sock and rub the new kitty. Deposit that sock in your resident cat's area. Rub your resident cat with the other sock and place that in the newcomer's room. This is how they'll start to become familiar with each other's scents. The next step is to allow them to switch rooms. Let each cat explore the other's area by itself.

Finally, introduce the cats to each other for brief periods while offering positive forms of distraction, such as treats or interactive toys. Try to keep the cats far apart at first. Make the sessions brief and always end them on a positive note. Bribery, with food treats, play, or catnip, is a great tool when introducing cats.

What’s the best collar for a cat? I’ve heard stories about how improper collars might cause choking, and I worry that my cat might find it uncomfortable.

A recent Ohio State University study found that three out of four cats tolerate wearing a collar, even if their owners were skeptical about its success. Says Linda Lord, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study: "A lot of people start out with the dogma that cats can't wear collars, that they won't tolerate them or that they're dangerous. Now, pet owners can look at this research and consider that they will be able to put identification on their cat.” She adds: “A collar with an ID tag is probably a cat's greatest chance of ever being re-homed or brought back if it is lost."

She and her team advise that the collar -- no matter its material -- should fit properly, with room for two fingers between the neck and the collar. They also suggest that you carefully monitor your cat’s behavior with the new collar for the first few days. It’s usually during this time that problems will surface, should your cat be one of the rare individuals that cannot tolerate a collar.

Microchipping is also always an option. I would also add that it’s equally important to keep your cat indoors at all times, as this is better for overall safety and longevity. Your vigilance can do wonders in protecting your cat from harm.

I spent a fortune on a new scratching post, but my male cat ignores it. What can I do to encourage him to use it?

Spending money on new cat toys and other objects only to have your cat ignore them can be a frustrating experience. Many cat owners have gorgeous cat trees in their homes, looking more like sculptural works of art than something their cats are actually using.

Dr. David Brunner and Sam Stall, co-authors of The Cat Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice on Lifetime Maintenance, offer several helpful suggestions. First, the scratching element should not be carpeting. If your cat is marching around on carpeting throughout your home and then sees it again on a cat tree, he would likely think, “So what? I don’t get it.” Sisal is a far better material choice. It’s sustainable and allows for the proper claw-pull tension that cats favor.

If your cat is catnip-sensitive, rub this herb on the cat post to serve as an attractant. Not all cats go for catnip, however, even as adults. Most kittens that are catnip-sensitive develop a taste for it later on.

Your cat looks to you for guidance. If you’re ignoring the post, then he probably will too. Spend some time with your pet near the cat tree, even scratching your fingernails on the surface. You might feel silly doing this, but you will accomplish two things: teaching your cat to use the post and putting your own scent on it. If your cat smells you, he will probably figure whatever it is will be good enough for him too.

Finally, if your cat favors scratching something else -- like a coveted easy chair -- place the scratching post in front of the chair. Then, if possible, stick double-sided tape over your cat’s particular scratching spot. Cats generally dislike the feel of the tape, and will then take their paws elsewhere -- hopefully to the nearby scratching post.

My 18-month-old cat, Annie, is an eating machine. She's always hungry, yet she weighs 15 pounds. Is that normal?

Obesity is the number one nutritional disease seen in cats. In fact, more than 35 percent of the cat population is considered overweight. You mentioned that your cat weighs 15 pounds, but it is important to know how much overweight this is. For certain types of cats, 15 pounds may not be far off the normal weight, so always check with your veterinarian to determine what the cat's ideal weight should be.

There are a couple of conditions that may be complicating your feline's ferocious appetite, including diabetes mellitus and thyroid disorders -- both of which may be detected from a blood test performed by your veterinarian. Be sure to have these tests done before you put your cat on a weight-loss campaign. If all is clear, then you must begin to cut back on Annie's calories and increase her exercise. Remember, for best results, losing weight must be a two-pronged approach.

Feed a diet specially formulated for losing weight. Dry, canned or a combination of the two can successfully be used to help your cat lose weight. Just remember you'll need to monitor how much your cat eats, so try to feed your cats separately if you have more than one feline.

Also, keep your cat occupied with lots of exercise and new play toys. Remember to hold weigh-ins weekly either at home or at your veterinarian's office so you can monitor the weight loss closely and see know the results.

I recently took my 11-week-old kitten for its first shots, and now it has a bump on its back where it received the injections. Is another vet visit in order?

It is not unusual for a slight swelling to occur at the site of a vaccination. The small bump is usually a result of a localized reaction to the vaccine, and will normally subside within five-to-seven days. The bump is most often firm and remains small. If, however, the site seems to be soft and getting larger due to swelling, or is tender, it may be an abscess. This would require a follow-up exam by your veterinarian, and he or she can advise what needs to be done, if anything. Swelling at the vaccination site is not normally a serious situation, but if there is any doubt in your mind, you should not hesitate to call your veterinarian and bring your cat in for an exam.

My 3-year-old cat is so timid that most of my relatives haven't even seen him yet, because he runs and hides when they come to visit. Is there a way to assure my cat that my visitors don't present any danger to him?

Hiding is a normal cat behavior, although it can be very unsettling for owners. A cat is a territorial creature. In free-roaming environments, unfamiliar cats that enter the territory of a colony would do so very carefully because there is a protocol to follow. In a typical indoors situation, when a guest comes to the house, your resident cat still has those feelings of self-protection about his territory. While some cats are social butterflies and feel secure around visitors, others feel threatened. When the doorbell rings, some threatened cats run for cover, while others stand their ground and try to look intimidating.

To help your cat, here is an exercise you can do. Have one guest come over. Make sure it is someone who is quiet and liked by the cat. When the guest enters, let the cat run and hide if he wants to. The guest should sit down and engage in a few minutes of conversation with you. Then excuse yourself and go to where the cat is hiding. Take a fishing pole toy with you and very casually conduct a play session. The cat may or may not choose to play, but the message you’ll be sending is one of relaxation and security. Use your voice to soothe the cat as you play. You’re telling the cat through your actions that all is right in his world. Then go back to your guest. About 10 minutes later, if the cat hasn’t ventured out, go in and do another casual play session.

Do this exercise several times a week if you can. If the cat does eventually venture out of his hiding place, keep the toy with you so you can casually entice him into a play session in the presence of the visitor.

My three-year-old cat is so timid that most of my relatives haven't even seen him yet because he runs and hides when they come to visit. Is there a way to assure my cat that my visitors don't present any danger to him?

Hiding is a normal cat behavior, although it can be very unsettling for owners. A cat is a territorial creature. In free-roaming environments, unfamiliar cats that enter the territory of a colony would do so very carefully, because there is a protocol to follow. In a typical indoors situation, when a guest comes to the house your resident cat still has those feelings of self-protection about his territory. While some cats are social butterflies and feel secure around visitors, others feel threatened. When the doorbell rings, some threatened cats run for cover, while others stand their ground and try to look intimidating.

To help your cat, here is an exercise you can do. Have one guest come over (make sure it is someone who is quiet and liked by the cat). When the guest enters, let the cat run and hide if he wants. The guest should sit down and engage in a few minutes of conversation with you. Then excuse yourself and go to where the cat is hiding. Take a fishing pole toy with you and very casually conduct a play session. The cat may or may not choose to play, but the message you'll be sending is one of relaxation and security. Use your voice to soothe the cat as you play. You're telling the cat through your actions that all is right in his world. Then go back to your guest. About 10 minutes later, if the cat hasn't ventured out, go in and do another casual play session.

Do this exercise several times a week if you can. If the cat does eventually venture out of his hiding place, keep the toy with you so you can casually entice him into a play session in the presence of the visitor.

I need to take my cat, Molly, on a car trip that will last three-and-a-half hours. What can you suggest that will prevent her from becoming anxious?

Before your actual car trip, spend some time getting Molly accustomed to riding in the car. Gently place her in a carrier and take her on short drives around the block. These very short outings will help her get comfortable with the motion of the vehicle without it lasting long enough to cause much anxiety. After each training session, give her a treat if she's motivated by food, or conduct a fun play session with her. Gradually increase the travel distance every few sessions.

When you do take the long trip, bring a light sheet with you to cover the carrier if Molly hyperventilates (often it's the sight of the scenery whizzing by that disorients a cat). You should also line the carrier with a towel in case she has an accident. Bring extra towels as well so you can reline the carrier with a fresh one if needed. Don't forget a plastic bag for the soiled towels.

My cat has a few behavior problems that I would like to discuss with a veterinarian. Should I just verbally describe the problems during the visit, or are there other steps I should take before bringing my cat to the vet?

A helpful book on this topic is Canine and Feline Behavior Therapy, by Benjamin Hart, Lynette Hart and Melissa Bain. They advise that you do a few things in advance of your visit.

First, maintain a journal/online log where you note your cat’s behavior issue, the circumstances, and the day and time. If you are fast enough with your cell phone or camcorder, you might also try videotaping your cat in the act. Sometimes, just keeping track of bad behavior can help you identify the causes, which will make finding solutions easier.

The authors also suggest that, when you go to the veterinarian or to the feline behavior expert, you bring all family members who interact with your cat. Our pets, as we know, act differently around particular individuals, so someone in your household might be triggering the bad behavior in your cat. (Or, conversely, your cat could be bothering the person!)

If you are going to a behaviorist and not to your regular vet, be sure to bring a copy of your cat’s medical records with you. Often, behavioral problems are really health issues. For example, a lot of litter box mistakes can be symptoms of kidney, liver and other health problems in cats.

Certain feline behavior therapists will have you fill out a survey before your appointment. Your log, if you’ve kept one, can come in handy for that. A good source for finding a cat therapist is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

My cat often sits on my lap with its back facing toward me. Is my pet just looking out, or is there some other reason why it does this?

The behavior that you describe is one of the most misinterpreted actions among felines. We tend to personify our cats, which isn’t always a bad thing. They can be like best friends and family members, providing support and companionship. In this case, however, human and cat actions differ.

When a person you’re trying to interact with sits with his or her back facing you, it’s usually a negative sign. That individual does not want to deal with you. As Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of the book Starting from Scratch: How to Correct Behavior Problems in Your Adult Cat, shares, for felines it’s a whole other signal.

Johnson-Bennett explains that cats sitting in this manner are revealing that they fully trust you. No cat in its right mind would sit that way if it thought you had ill intentions. The position represents the near ultimate faith that you won’t attack.

She adds, though, that cats are still hardwired to be predators. As a result, they like to sit so that all of their senses can detect what’s going on in the surrounding environment. Sitting in that position, your cat can smell someone or something else approaching. It can see at least 180 degrees of action. It can also hear incoming sounds better.

The next time your cat sits with its back facing toward you, don’t consider it to be rude. It’s actually the kitty version of a compliment.

It's hard to phrase this delicately, but . . . my two kittens seem to have a problem with flatulence. Is this something they will outgrow, and should I be concerned?

The problem you describe is common in kittens. Excessive gas can result from various causes, such as consuming too much food. As you may have noticed, when there are two cats in a home, they may eat simply in the name of competition and overeating can disrupt the digestive process. Flatulence will often stop over time.

You should, however, make sure that your kittens are free of intestinal parasites (worms). Take them to your veterinarian for a proper health exam, which will include checking the stools for parasites.

If the situation does not resolve itself relatively soon, you may want to consider changing their diet. It's possible that an ingredient in the food you are currently feeding them may be causing the flatulence. A simple dietary change may correct this. And be sure to avoid any table foods or milk products, which can cause digestive upsets.

My cat, Kisses, recently lost her brother, Cupcake. Now Kisses has latched onto a former favorite toy of Cupcake's -- a little toy frog -- that she carries in her mouth while meowing. Why does she do this?

The behavior Kisses is displaying is very common in that situation. She is mourning the loss of her brother and is confused by his disappearance. It's not unusual that she's carrying around Cupcake's favorite toy as a way of comforting herself. Her cries are normal warning sounds that cats make when they have a prized "prey" in their mouth. They want to warn other cats in the area not to try to take it away.

You may find that Kisses starts spending time in Cupcake's favorite napping areas. This is normal as well. You can help her through this difficult period by planning lots of play sessions with her for distraction. The play time will also help her realize that not everything in her world has turned upside down.

How can I best clean up litter box mistakes so that my cat won’t revisit the wrong area again?

Few things are as troublesome to a cat owner as a litter box miss. Some cats will then repeat the error time and again, turning the mistake spot into a new litter destination.

Only the cat knows exactly why the change was made, but usually a handful of reasons can explain the problem. According to The Humane Society of the United States, “Location, location, location!” is a buzz phrase for not only human real estate, but also what your cat values about its litter box. Make sure the box is in a safe, quiet and fully accessible area. If your cat is elderly, use a box with low sides. If you have more than one cat, each feline should have its own box. (You should also add an extra box for good measure.)

Keep the box very clean. A lot of people use scoop-able litter now and just scoop it out every few days. I advise cleaning it twice a day or more as needed. When you set up your box, use a plastic liner. Place a paper shopping bag at the bottom over that; this will help prevent your cat from scratching through the plastic. Put another liner over everything and then fill with your cat’s favorite litter.

I like to place the filled box over some sheets of newspaper on a much larger plastic bag, all of which can help catch spills and will make cleanup easier. None of these things, however, will save you should your cat go on the carpet, furniture or some other spot. If that problem happens repeatedly, take your cat for a veterinary visit to rule out any underlying health issues.

For cleaning such “whoops” areas, wipe the spot completely with a plain, dry cloth or paper towel. Next, use a cleanser with bio-enzymatic ingredients. These help break apart the protein bonds that can so tenaciously remain. They also usually leave behind a fresh citrus scent. (An added plus is that cats dislike the smell of citrus even though we humans enjoy it.)

Wall-to-wall carpeting and cat mistakes, such as the above, aren’t usually a great combo. It is hard to fully clean carpeting and fabric furniture since the protein waste sinks into the material and cannot easily be cleaned off. Mop-up jobs will be much more successful if you do not have carpeting. If you do, you might have to block off the troublesome area. Make sure it completely dries, down to the padding and under-floor, after cleaning. Dampness can encourage bacterial growth, compounding the problem.

Photo: Corbis Images

My older female cat seems to stare into space and meow to herself for no apparent reason. What could explain this puzzling behavior?

Meowing in the quirky way you describe can be explained in many different ways. Certain breeds tend to meow more than others. Siamese cats, for example, often seem to have a lot to communicate. Individual cats may just vocalize more. Your cat could also be hard of hearing. However, something else may be going on.

First, have your cat’s thyroid checked out by a veterinarian. Sometimes a condition called hyperthyroidism will cause excessive meowing, along with weight loss and other symptoms.

If your cat receives a clean bill of health, then she might be suffering from feline dementia. Danielle Gunn-Moore, a specialist in feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies, and colleagues investigated cats to see if they suffered from an Alzheimer’s-like disease and, if so, to see what might cause it. They indeed found that cats could succumb to feline Alzheimer’s disease, with elderly cats more susceptible. “As with humans, the life expectancy of cats is increasing, and with this longer life runs the greater chance of developing dementia,” explains Gunn-Moore. She added that studies “suggest that 28 percent of pet cats aged 11 to 14 years develop at least one old-age-related behavior problem, and this increases to more than 50 percent for cats over the age of 15.”

Even if your cat has this problem, she may have many good years of living ahead. Not all elderly cats suffer from dementia, so she may just have a lot to tell you -- and the universe.

I have two cats. One has suddenly decided that she is now scared of the other and hides behind the sofa and runs away from the other. What can I do?

You have two problems at work: a fearful cat and a potentially aggressive one. Each needs addressing separately before you tackle the overall issue. For your scared cat, if the stress is prolonged, she can pant, lose fur and suffer health issues -- similar to humans who suffer from health problems when under chronic stress. Spend extra time with this cat, playing with her and petting her to help calm her down. Regarding your possibly aggressive cat, there are at least four probable causes for this type of behavior: a drive to dominate, an underlying health issue, unresolved stress or just plain boredom. Be sure that a veterinarian examines both cats. If boredom is the issue, play with this cat alone first and then play with it while the other cat present. The playtime should help curb some of its pent up energy. Make sure each cat has its own space to retreat to and that each can enjoy its meals uninterrupted. Supervise your cats’ interactions, working to make them as pleasant as possible. When each cat behaves well, provide a food treat reward to reinforce that good behavior. You didn’t mention the sex or age of your cats. In-tact males tend to be dominant. With effort on your part, however, most cats will bond with each other over time.

My cat seems to recognize his own name when I call him. Does he really understand what I'm saying to him?

Studies on animal vocalizations are still in their infancy, but research has shown that many species not only respond when their name is called, but also that they name conspecifics (i.e., fellow cat relatives and friends) with or without human involvement. For example, a recent study found that wild dolphins name each other. Bats name each other too.

Since cats and dogs seem to understand the name-equals-self connection, it's very likely that many mammals name each other. If you have more than one cat, it could then be possible that your pet has two names: one in "cat speak" and the other that you gave him.

To reinforce your cat's recognition of his name, use it whenever you spend quality time with him. He will then associate your speaking his name with positive things, such as praise, treats and you.

How can I clean my cat's ears?

There are several different ways to clean a cat's ears. One technique is to flush out your cat's ears with a special liquid cleaning solution, sold at veterinarians' offices and many pet stores. Cats often hate this process, and you might too when your cat shakes its ears out all over you and your furniture. Some veterinarians use a Q-tip or other internal probe. This can be effective, but very dangerous if you do it at home. It's best to leave this method for the experts. One of the easiest -- and safest -- methods is to moisten a cotton ball with water or vegetable oil and wipe the inner, visible portion of your cat's ear. This will help remove mites and other parasites that may be present, as well as dirt and debris. Do not probe your cat's ear canal. Also, be sure to use a clean cotton ball for each ear. Stroke your cat's head and cheeks during the cleaning so your pet will associate it with your pleasant company.

Is it a myth that all cats are loners? My cat seems to be forever at my side craving attention.

Regular, positive reinforcement can train animals, including humans and cats, to expect certain good outcomes. For example, you may enjoy a cup of coffee every morning. After a period of time, you develop a craving for that morning cup of joe. The same is true for cats that have been socialized, or have enjoyed positive interaction with humans, usually from a young age. It's possible to socialize older, feral cats, but they're not all equally receptive, and the process becomes more difficult as felines age. While it is a myth that all cats are loners, felines also value their solitary moments. Most let you know when they need a break from your attention. This is not a bad lesson for us humans to follow -- we, too, could take a few minutes each day for ourselves. Domestic cats, on the other hand, seem to have found the perfect balance between solitude and socializing.

My cat drools like crazy when I pet it. I’ve only seen such drooling in dogs before. Is this typical behavior for some cats?

Dog slobber is well-known among pet owners, but as you say, kitty drooling isn’t mentioned as much. Many cats, however, seem to drool as much as their doggy counterparts.

Arden Moore and Nancy Peterson, authors of The Cat Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights & Proven Solutions for Your Feline Questions, share that some cats simply drool when they are relaxed and happy. My guess is that is what’s happening with your cat. The phenomenon is similar to purring in that the behavior seems to kick in just as bliss begins. The authors further point out that the drooling may also be a conditioned behavior, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that your cat has become accustomed to doing certain things when it is enjoying your attention.

Moore and Peterson add that petting may stimulate certain parts of your cat that help produce saliva. These include the head, neck and chin areas. Normally, eating triggers saliva production, but your hand action could result in a similar outcome. Again, that’s nothing to worry about. Most cats enjoy having their cheeks and nearby areas massaged. You can try petting just its back to see if that eliminates some of the drooling.

Sometimes, excessive drooling in cats is tied to a medical problem, such as a dental infection. So long as your cat has a clean bill of health, you can assume that its drooling is associated with complete relaxation.

My dog tries to eat everything in sight, but my cat is so picky. Are cats really more finicky than dogs, or is something else going on?

Cats and dogs have many things in common. They are both mammals and love the attention of humans. In the wild, they are both predatory animals too. The wolf ancestors of dogs, however, were also scavengers and omnivores by necessity, eating plants and carrion as well. Cats will sometimes nibble on greens, but their diet is much more meat-based. Scientists refer to them as obligate carnivores, meaning their primary nutrients come from meat.

In the wild, keep in mind that pickiness often pays off. It can help to assure that the food is edible and safe for consumption. Think about your enjoyment of fish and chips or other familiar meal. If it smells or looks “funny” to you, you may be less inclined to eat it. Your cat is no different. If the odor, color, texture and other factors are unfamiliar, the cat is less inclined to nosh. That’s one reason why you must transition your cat to a new food gradually.

My biggest male cat seems to think he is king of the litter box, with the smaller male and female looking a bit scared. Is there such a thing as a litter box bully?

Some cats, like humans, exhibit a tendency to dominate. If your male cat appears to have claimed the litter box as his own, this behavior may be right to some extent if you haven’t put out enough litter boxes for your cats. The situation you describe is like a single stall for a bunch of concertgoers. Everyone has to wait in line, crossing their legs, while the stall claimer goes.

If you have at least three cats, you should make four litter boxes available to them. The general rule is to provide a litter box for each cat, plus one. So if you have four cats, you should put out five litter boxes, and so on.

The Humane Society of the United States further recommends that you place one litter box on every level of your home. Your cats would otherwise have to travel quite a ways to go. The separation might also help your pets to better define territory. However, sometimes cats do copy each other as a sort of cat version of schooling behavior. In that case, the boxes would be placed in the same general area. Remember that a clean box does not smell, so any number of boxes can be kept together so long as you properly maintain them.

Should one of your pets eliminate in an undesired spot, the Humane Society recommends covering those places with upside-down carpet runner or aluminum foil, citrus-scented balls, or water bowls, since cats don’t like to eliminate where they eat or drink.

You may not be able to retrain your male cat out of his dominant ways, but you can make life easier for your other cats by providing a sufficient number of litter boxes for them.

Since cats are very odor-sensitive, can certain natural scents be used to discourage them from climbing on particular things, like favorite furniture?

Your cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times as strong as yours. One reason is that cats have double the number of smell-sensitive cells in their noses as people do, giving them a much more acute ability to detect odors. They also possess a special scent organ in the roof of their mouths, called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ, which is why you sometimes see cats investigating smells with their mouths open.

Once a cat places its scent on something, such as by rubbing its head on a curtain or going to the bathroom on a carpet, the resulting odor can draw it back to the spot, leading to the behavior again. If you want to discourage that, you therefore need to remove the cat’s odor. For certain things, like clothing or linens, the effort is easy. Just put them in the washing machine. For carpeting, furniture and the like, the cleanup is not so simple.

The Humane Society of the United States suggests following these three steps:

1. Soak up as much of the waste as possible with newspaper and paper towels. A clever trick is to then place a few of these soiled items in your cat’s litter box, which can help reinstruct your cat to go in the right spot. It’s important to note, however, that inappropriate elimination can be a symptom of health issues, so check with your veterinarian if your cat repeatedly refuses to use its litter box.

2. Rinse the “accident zone” thoroughly with clean, cool water and allow it to dry. You may want to consider using a wet vac to help speed up that process.

3. Use a high-quality pet odor neutralizer, found at pet stores, to further rid the zone of the smell. Such neutralizers contain enzymes that help break down protein and bacteria. Smells that cats tend to avoid include vinegar, mouthwash, citrus oil and certain pheromones.

It’s often a losing battle, however, to try to replace a cat scent with one of the above fragrances. I think it’s far more effective to fully clean away the offending, cat-attracting smell and redirect your cat to the desired area, be it the litter box, a scratching post or something else.

I would like to adopt two cats, but I am wondering which combination would be best. For example, an adult male paired with an adult female, or two female kittens?

Most animal experts believe it’s better to have two or more cats instead of just one. As much as we love our cats, we cannot fully communicate and behave as a cat would, so having interaction with the same species is important for your new pets. Another perk is that the cats can keep each other company when you are not available, providing less lonely time for them and making play more interactive.

In terms of pairings, Dr. David Brunner, a veterinarian at Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple Animal Clinic, and author Sam Stall share some helpful advice in their book The Cat Owner’s Manual. Young, neutered male cats are best paired with another male cat of the same age. Adult, neutered male cats with gentle temperaments tend to do well with either male or female kittens. While that combination might seem unlikely, the easygoing male probably wouldn’t feel threatened by the new kitten.

Older females are a bit trickier, since they can be more suspicious of strangers, say Brunner and Stall. That’s particularly true if they’ve been in a house for a while as the only pet. They are best paired with a younger female.

I’ve also had great success raising two or more members of the same feline family. If a local shelter has kittens from the same litter up for adoption, consider bringing home as many as you can. As for humans, you’d be preserving the genetically tied family unit, setting the stage for a lot of happiness to come.

I’ve heard that there’s a new sport for cats: feline agility. What is this, and how can I get my pet involved?

Feline agility is becoming a popular sport for cats and their owners. I don’t think it’s all that new, but groups are more organized now, with scheduled competitions that are similar to those for dog-agility fanatics.

“Cat agility is a sport in which a handler directs or lures a cat through an obstacle course as quickly as possible,” according to International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT), which hosts many events. Not all cats are cut out for this sport, however, as you might imagine. ICAT advises that you consider the following questions:

Can your cat handle new situations calmly, and does it enjoy investigating new people and things? Your cat may love to play at home in its familiar environment, but feline agility would take a shy, or less socialized, cat out of such a comfort zone.

Is your cat truly motivated to play? Since you must work with your cat through the agility course, the task could be a huge challenge for both of you if your pet isn’t eager to go from the start.

How well-trained is your cat? Getting through an agility course requires some training basics, such as verbal and visual commands and rewards. If your cat is already well-trained and wants to learn, feline agility could be a great experience for you both.

How old is your cat? ICAT agility competitions are for healthy cats that are 8 months or older. Experts say it’s best to get your cat started early.

For more information about cat agility, please check out the ICAT website.

Every day, my male cat looks out the window, waiting for another outdoor male cat (a neighbor’s pet) that marches through my garden. After this other cat pays his visit, Nate hisses and growls at me. What could explain this behavior?

The behavior you describe is called redirected aggression. It’s when aggression is inflicted upon an individual or group that did not provoke the initial anger. We humans do it all of the time, such as when a spouse or roommate picks a fight with someone after having a bad day.

It sounds like your cat is experiencing many bad days -- or at least moments -- watching the neighbor cat march onto his home turf. Cats are extremely territorial and will often try to “push buttons,” expanding into another cat’s area that might be desirable. Feral cats often do this to house kitties. If the latter is left outside at night, in particular, roaming feral cats may try to attack and scare off the home cat, acquiring the area for themselves. That is one of many reasons why you should not let your cat outside, unless he has a leash or other protection.

You probably cannot prevent him from spying on this other male cat. The Humane Society of the United States offers these tips for dealing with feline aggression:

  • Don’t think that cats can work out problems among themselves. It’s a good thing your Nate is indoors.
  • Don’t touch fighting cats. Although your cat cannot directly tangle with the neighbor’s cat, it’s best to leave Nate alone for a while until his temper cools off.
  • Don’t punish your cat. Nate is ready to lash out anyway, so you could be his target. Plus, your pet would not even associate the punishment with his irate behavior.
  • Don’t consider adding more cats to your household if Nate is very territorial. While many cats enjoy the company of others, some find it more difficult to adjust to multi-cat households.

With any luck, your neighbor will also want to improve his or her cat’s safety by making him indoor-only too.

I’ve heard of some fun cat-related apps, like the popular CatPaint. But are there any practical apps that can help me to alleviate unwanted cat behaviors?

You can get apps now for almost anything, including alleviating unwanted cat behaviors. One such app for the iPhone is called Cat Training. Created by the company iTech Simplified LLC, Cat Training offers plenty of helpful tips, along with color photos to make the content more engaging. For example, one tip suggests using a harness -- instead of a leash and collar -- for walking your cat. This allows your pet to go outside, but prevents difficulties, including problems your cat might create by disturbing birds and other wildlife. This app also includes tips on litter box training.

Another popular app related to cat behavior is simply called Cat Guide. Wavefront International offers it for the iPhone and iPad. This app provides quick and easy access to basic information about different cat breeds. Information includes how vocal the cats are, their predicted level of activity, tendency to show affection toward owners and more.

Outside of cat behavior topics, another favorite cat-related app is Cat Symptoms from PetMD. It gives you immediate access to hundreds of health care articles. You can match symptoms to illnesses, so it can be a helpful first step, before an actual veterinary office visit, to diagnosing your cat. Yet another app favorite is Petfinder, which pairs nicely with the website of the same name. I have many colleagues at Petfinder, and all are devoted to helping adoptable pets find good homes. Even if you are not looking to bring home a new cat now, I recommend checking out the heartwarming, entertaining adoption stories.

I've heard that there's a summer camp for cats that allows felines to go on a safari. If so, how can that be safe?

I think you might be referring to Pet Camp in San Francisco, which has the nation’s only outdoor adventure area for cats. It allows cats to go on safari in the facility’s protected Safari Gardens, an urban oasis created just for cats. The gardens include a bubbly fountain, plants for exploring, birds within sight for chasing, live tree limbs, and bamboo bridges for traversing. Many cats skip the birds and go right to the strings of tiny mirrors that move in the breeze, casting dancing lights on the ground that mesmerize the curious kitties.

The safari excursion is just one feature at Pet Camp, which describes itself as being “Not your old-school boarding kennel.” It marks a global trend toward boarding and activity facilities for pets that offer more enriching environments, while still providing expected basic services. This particular business is also known for its “green advocacy,” promoting environmentally friendly efforts whenever possible.

Pet Camp services both dogs and cats. “I have been very pleased with the professional approach the staff takes towards the care of all the pets that stay there,” says client Debbie Findling.

So while novel features like safaris can lure cats, dogs and their owners in, I think the human element still reigns supreme. If you are working with a business, like Pet Camp, that features qualified and caring staff members, your cat will likely enjoy the experience -- or at least endure it in safety until your furry pal can come home to you.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Anyka

I’m preparing to do some summer gardening, and I noticed that my cats love to lounge in some empty plant pots and boxes that I now have indoors. Why do cats seem to enjoy squeezing into tight places?

The sleek and flexible body of a cat can squeeze into very tight spaces, as owners sometimes learn when their felines push through partially opened doors or other tight spots. The shoulders of a cat can even bend and twist to enable them to fit into such spaces -- all adaptations for hunting elusive prey.

So the short answer to your question is “Because they can.” But that still doesn’t explain why cats are sometimes attracted to beds, containers and more that would seem to not be a very accommodating fit. Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckroate, authors of The Natural Cat: The Comprehensive Guide to Optimum Care, say that cats “feel safe” in tighter spaces.

There are a few possible reasons as to why snuggly fits make some cats feel comforted. One is that the reduced area helps cats to retain their body heat. Warmth itself is a comfort -- think of a hot cup of coffee in the morning -- so that conserved body heat can be an attraction. Another is that cats are very tactile animals. From their whiskers to their tails, they are very aware of what’s around them. Feeling the sides of a bed or container lets them know that they are safe all around.

I offer my own cats a variety of beds and containers to hang out in. Sometimes they enjoy spreading out, particularly on a hot summer’s day, while other times the tight squeeze is desired.

Is it true that we didn’t really domesticate cats, but they domesticated themselves?

The word “domestication” comes from the Latin word “domus,” which means house, so at its root, domestication can refer to making an individual become accustomed to life in or around a human residence. Wild felines, such as the African wildcat, were attracted to grain, rodents and other food sources found near humans when we settled down and left our hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In that respect, cats likely came to us before we came to them.

A unique quality retained by Felis catus, aka house kitties, is their physical similarity to their wild ancestors. Linda Case makes this very important point in her book The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health. Consider the physical differences between many dogs and wild wolves. A poodle, for example, looks nothing like a wolf. Many domesticated cats, however, look like mini wildcats. They also retain some of their ancestors’ hunting abilities.

Natural feline beauty, along with the good hunting and companionship skills of cats, made it easy for people to see the value of these animals. There was an incentive for us to keep cats around, so we helped to tame them. Case explains that taming means an animal “has been habituated to human caretakers.” But this process requires some willingness on the cat’s part, so I like to think that cats and humans found and tamed each other.

I work during the day, and I’m always worried that my cat will ingest something that it shouldn’t. Is there any way I can train it to avoid certain items?

If you’re worried that your cat may look mischievous, surveys show that most reported cases of pets unintentionally poisoning themselves occur among dogs. It’s not really a dog’s fault, however. Canines are omnivores and have more of a desire to taste everything in sight. Nevertheless, cats account for about 9 percent of calls to poison centers, so you are right to be concerned.

The Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680), a 24-7 animal poison control service based in Minneapolis, recently conducted a survey to determine the top five cat toxins. They are:

1. Human or veterinary drugs

2. Poisonous plants

3. Insecticides

4. Household cleaners

5. Other toxins, such as glow sticks and liquid potpourri

Some human medications are coated in materials that are palatable to cats, so be sure that you keep all medicines stored safely away. Also, never give your cat human meds, unless directed to do so by your cat’s veterinarian.

Regarding poisonous plants, the ASPCA website provides a thorough list of plants that are toxic and nontoxic to pets.

For insecticides, take necessary precautions with all such products. A big mistake is to give your cat concentrated topical flea and tick medications that are meant for dogs. Dog-specific insecticides often contain ingredients like pyrethrins or pyrethroids that are dangerous for cats, which may even lick them off of treated dogs. Consult with your veterinarian about this issue if any of your pets have a flea problem.

It’s really up to you to safeguard your cat against accidental ingestion of toxins. Products that contain these chemicals are probably located all over your house, so it would be difficult to train your kitty to avoid them. If a poison-related emergency does occur, take action immediately by contacting your cat’s veterinarian, a local animal hospital, or the Pet Poison Helpline

We humans are traditionally thought of as having 5 senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. But I’ve heard that cats have at least one more sense. Is that true and, if so, what is this other feline sense?

Traditionally, there are five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. We are all familiar with these, and cats have them too. But it’s true that cats do possess an extra sense.

In his book Understanding Cat Behaviour: The Complete Feline Problem Solver, cat expert Roger Tabor explains that this sixth sense allows cats to “taste scent,” or interpret smells in ways that we cannot. An organ between your cat’s nose and incisor teeth is responsible for this ability.

If you notice your cat grimacing, this isn’t necessarily out of disgust. The expression permits air, which contains organic molecules, to waft close to the special organ for processing. The cat’s tongue may be recruited to help move and circulate the air, sort of like the feline version of wine tasting.

Tabor explains that the main use of this sense is for a less elegant purpose -- urine analysis. But cats appear to utilize taste-scent in assessing food quality too.

I provide my cat with fresh water in its water bowl each day, yet it still drinks from the toilet. Why does he do this, and how can I get it to stop?

Some cats and dogs gravitate to “clean” water in the toilet bowl. Cats are genetically programmed to seek out new water sources, especially if they’re moving, so that’s one reason. Another is that the water could seem fresher than other options available to your cat. However, you’re right to be concerned.

According to the ASPCA, your pet could come down with bacterial-related gastrointestinal problems from drinking stagnant water out of the toilet. Waste and cleanser residues could also remain. Those discourage knowing individuals like you and your human guests from getting their gulps from the toilet!

Keep your toilet seat down. When you have guests, consider closing the bathroom door and putting a note on it about your cat. Be sure to provide fresh water in a clean bowl at all times for your cat. Beyond that, I also recommend buying a water fountain for your feline. Pet stores sell these just for cats, which are attracted to the flow. The movement additionally helps to keep the water aerated and free from bacteria, making the water taste better to your cat.

My dog tries to eat everything in sight, but my cat is so picky. Are cats really more finicky than dogs, or is something else going on?

Cats and dogs have many things in common. They are both mammals and love the attention of humans. In the wild, they are both predatory animals too. The wolf ancestors of dogs, however, were also scavengers and omnivores by necessity, eating plants and carrion as well. Cats will sometimes nibble on greens, but their diet is much more meat-based. Scientists refer to them as obligate carnivores, meaning their primary nutrients come from meat.

In the wild, keep in mind that pickiness often pays off. It can help to assure that the food is edible and safe for consumption. Think about your enjoyment of a hamburger or other familiar meal. If it smells or looks “funny” to you, you may be less inclined to eat it. Your cat is no different. If the odor, color, texture and other factors are unfamiliar, the cat is less inclined to nosh. That’s one reason why you must transition your cat to a new food gradually.

My 6-year-old male cat has started yowling in the middle of the night. I’ve tried consoling him, holding him and squirting him with a water bottle, but nothing has worked. Any ideas?

Listening to yowling at night can be incredibly frustrating for you and others within earshot of your noisy cat. I’m assuming that your male has been neutered. If not, that procedure could help alleviate the problem.

Over the years, I’ve lived with quite a few cats that have yowled at night and during the day. In my experience, two root causes are usually to blame: hyperthyroidism or slight dementia associated with old age. Your cat is only 6 years old, so the latter likely isn’t the underlying cause of your pet’s behavior. Have your cat checked out by a veterinarian to see if its thyroid values are up. A simple blood test can provide this information. If so, medication can help curb your cat’s yowling. Hyperthyroidism, if left untreated, can cause heart problems and even death, so there are other very good reasons to treat this condition.

If your cat is in good health, Tracie Hotchner, author of The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know, offers the following tips:

  • Don’t console your cat or otherwise validate his yowling. You are just rewarding his bad behavior if you do so.
  • Consider allowing your cat to sleep in your bedroom, if that’s possible. Your presence may provide the comfort your cat is seeking, eliminating the need for his yowling.
  • Buy a heated sleeping pad for your cat. The soothing heat could send him into quiet dreamland as you also rest.
  • If your cat sleeps in another room or in another part of your house, Hotchner says a baby monitor can allow you to check in on him and verbally get his attention -- without you always having to get up from your bed.

Our Japanese bobtail, Murfee, has recently decided to urinate in areas other than his litter box, including my husband’s lap. He has been exhibiting other bad behaviors as well, seemingly to get back at my husband. What might be the problem?

Your question touches on two separate issues: revenge and inappropriate elimination. While we often personify our cats, revenge is not in their suite of behaviors. Cats live more in the here and now, and getting back at someone requires a fair amount of plotting and planning. Keep in mind that going to the bathroom is also not something that’s distasteful or wrong to cats. Even if a cat could enact revenge, urinating in a certain area wouldn’t be the way to do it.

Stress can contribute to all sorts of health issues in mammals, including cats and humans. It’s possible that your cat is afraid of your husband for some reason, but I doubt that is the problem. It’s important that your cat’s litter box is kept clean and is in a quiet, safe area for your pet.

Schedule a veterinary visit for your cat. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, numerous underlying health problems could result in inappropriate elimination. These can include inflammation of the urinary tract, kidney disease, liver problems, thyroid disease and more. If your cat receives a clean bill of health, you may have to take over cat-holding duties in your household while your husband and cat work toward becoming more comfortable around each other.

I know that some cat owners declaw their cats in hopes of preventing damage to furniture, rugs and other objects. Is it true that declawing can have the opposite effect on such belongings?

Cat declawing, according to the Humane Society of the United States, is sadly comparable to a human having each finger cut off at the last knuckle. Declawing is not a simple procedure. Margaret Bonham, author of Bring Me Home! Cats Make Great Pets, says short-term risks include infection, nail regrowth and hemorrhaging. The Humane Society adds that long-term problems may include lasting back pain for your cat, nerve damage, bone spurs and behavioral problems. Your question refers to the latter.

Both Bonham and the Humane Society mention that declawed cats have exhibited an increased tendency to bite. My guess is that’s because the cat doesn’t retain the sense of security offered by its claws. Chronic pain could also impact behavior. Inappropriate elimination (i.e., when a cat doesn’t use its litter box) is another documented possible side effect. This bad habit could then hurt the objects you mention, such as your furniture and rugs.

I’ve lived with many cats over the years and have never resorted to declawing them. Regular nail-trimming works wonders, as does providing a scratching post that will attract your pet. You may have to spend a little time playing with your cat at the post, applying catnip and utilizing other tactics to train your cat to use the post often.

Bonham reports it’s illegal in some countries to declaw cats, unless the procedure is necessary for medical reasons. She believes declawing should only be used as a last resort, and I agree.

I recently read that cats nearly defy gravity when they drink. What’s so special about cat lapping?

When your cat drinks, it reaches speeds of up to 3 feet per second, so you can’t really appreciate what is taking place when you watch your cat in motion. Scientists from MIT and Princeton, among other universities, recently used high-speed imaging to capture the cat lapping process. They then slowed down the video and analyzed it. Here’s what they discovered:

After a cat’s tongue brushes the surface of a liquid, such as water or milk, a column of the liquid forms between the moving tongue and the liquid’s surface. Inertia causes the liquid to stretch upward. In slow motion, it looks like the liquid is defying gravity, but the liquid does fall, and just as that happens, the cat draws its tongue in and swallows. All of this happens about four times per second.

Roman Stocker, who worked on the research project, recruited his 8-year-old cat, Cutta Cutta, for many of the videos. Stocker was inspired to investigate cat lapping after admiring the way Cutta Cutta delicately drank while his family enjoyed breakfast. He and his work colleagues think the sophisticated way cats lap their liquids “may be related to keeping their whiskers dry, since these play a very important sensory function.”

I’ve been feeding a feral cat in my yard. It seems tame, and I’d like to make it my pet. What is the best way to go about this?

People will often feed feral cats without thinking of the consequences. Frequently, such cats do not receive proper medical care -- including spaying and neutering -- leading to all sorts of unintended problems.

If you are concerned about picking up the cat, use a humane trap -- shelters often carry Havahart traps that you can borrow -- and get the cat that way. (When dealing with a large family of feral cats, I bought a few of these traps and rented a couple of them from local shelters and pet stores.) Next, take the cat to a veterinarian for a thorough medical examination. Depending on the cat’s age and condition, it might need to be spayed and treated for fleas, ear mites and other issues that cats tend to develop when outdoors.

Your cat sounds gentle enough, but some feral cats need to be confined to a safe and more manageable part of the house while they are being socialized. The organization Stray Pet Advocacy advises that you set up a dark room that is fully cat-proofed, with hiding places, food, water, toys, two litter boxes filled with organic-only potting soil, and articles of clothing that bear your scent placed in appropriate places around the room.

The cat should be allowed to stay and relax in that room for 24 hours as it gets used to feeling safe and secure indoors and around people. You can then gradually begin to play with the cat, pet it and hold it. When it seems comfortable with you and its new life, you can then allow it into the rest of your home.

After my cat finishes going to the bathroom, it sometimes scoots its behind on my rug. How can I prevent my cat from soiling the carpet?

The problem you describe is a common one. Without toilet paper, kitties will sometimes resort to carpet cleaning, so to speak. You needn’t get rid of your carpeting or your cat, however, to solve the issue.

Cats are inherently clean. In the wild, odors can attract predators, so staying clean is a life-or-death effort. If you feed your cat a high-quality food, your pet’s body will absorb more nutrients and less waste will result. If the problem is chronic and tied to digestive sensitivities, your veterinarian may prescribe a low-residue intestinal formula cat food.

Loose stools can also be tied to heat, ingestion of fur, stress and certain health issues. Schedule a visit with your cat’s veterinarian to rule out anything that may be medically treatable. When cleaning your carpet, use an enzymatic product. Compounds within such products can break down proteins and allow you to better wash away soil and odors.

I brought home a 3-month-old male kitten and he constantly licks, sucks and bites my 2-year-old male cat under his neck very aggressively. He also does this with the other kittens in his litter. Why does he behave this way?

Your male kitten does sound like he’s top cat in your house, or at least he thinks he is. The behaviors that you describe -- licking, sucking and biting -- are normal, so long as they don’t hurt the other cats or get directed toward you.

Pam Johnson Bennett, author of Cat vs. Cat: Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat writes that such “social play during kittenhood is important because it teaches cats how much pressure to use when biting so as not to inflict pain. The reaction of the kitten he bites becomes a valuable lesson.” Johnson Bennett adds that kittens raised without littermates may miss this lesson, and therefore act more aggressively than they should.

When it’s time to neuter this kitten, some of his aggression should diminish. You should also play with him as much as possible, to help work off his extra energy. Kittens and cats with too much boring time on their paws are more likely to act out. Clicker training, a gentle water bottle spritz or even just a loud “No!” might also help to get him to stop bothering your other cats.


My 9-year-old cat does not purr and never has. I can feel a vibration in its neck at times, but I can’t hear any sound. Is that normal?

According to Michael W. Fox, author of The New Animal Doctor’s Answer Book, some cats “simply quit purring altogether for no apparent reason and others never purr.” Fox believes it’s just “an idiosyncrasy.”

In your case, your cat is purring since you can feel a vibration in his neck. If you put a microphone up to your cat’s neck, you’d likely hear the familiar sound. Remember: From an evolutionary standpoint, cats likely developed the ability to purr in order to communicate with their mothers when they were nursing as kittens. The vibration, which a mother cat can feel, tells her of the kitten’s presence and that all is OK.

A very ill cat will also sometimes purr. The real reason is still unknown: Some theories suggest the cat is attempting to calm itself, while others suggest the cat is trying to communicate submission to others. In any case, it’s perfectly normal for your adult cat to not emit a very audible purr. If it looks happy, butts you and comes to greet you, then it is expressing its contentment in other ways.

Our cat Smokey gets very frisky in the mornings: He runs around at high speeds and jumps onto furniture. Is this normal behavior?

It is very common for cats to be active in the early morning. Cats are naturally crepuscular, which means they are the most active at dawn and dusk. In the wild, their ancestors would hunt at these times to catch their prey off guard.

While frisky behavior can be normal, it may also be a symptom of certain health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism. I’ve had a few cats over the years that have suffered from this condition. It can cause them to “meow” more frequently and loudly, act hyper and lose weight, among other noticeable signs. While the chances are that Smokey is healthy and having a good time in the morning, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems -- especially if Smokey previously exhibited more sedentary behavior.

If your cat is OK and if you have the time, the ASPCA recommends playing with your cat before feedings. This mimics what happens in the wild, with the “hunting” happening before the feast. Smokey will probably work off his energy, enjoy his meal, groom himself and then nap until his body cycles into the playful mode again.

My cat attacks me for no reason. I have scratches and bite marks on my right hand all the time. What can I do?

You might think your cat attacks you without cause, but there is always a reason -- at least in your cat’s mind. In my opinion, the attacks are the result of either fear or playfulness. If your cat has had a bad experience being held and hasn’t been socialized, he could react by lashing out. My guess, however, is that your cat is younger and quite playful -- though the game is no fun for you.

I am not a proponent of declawing cats, but you trimming your cat’s claws regularly can help minimize the damage. Next, you must find a deterrent that will stop your cat’s unwanted behavior. For some cats, this can be a hand clap, a finger snap, a light spray of water, or a loud “No!” You can also just ignore it: Cats usually hate to be ignored when they desire attention. You can even test your cat by placing your hand in front of it. Whenever it becomes subdued or does not attack, reward that good behavior with a treat.

Try to work off some of that excess energy by redirecting your cat’s attentions to a toy. A pole toy with dangling feathers or fronds usually grabs the attention of pounce-ready cats.

Our older cat has chronic renal failure and is now more sensitive to sounds. It jumps and twitches at the slightest percussive noise, such as the sound of a door closing. How can we help our pet?

You’ve already taken an important first step by noticing what bothers your particular cat. Continue to pay attention to its needs and respond to them as you can. Obviously you cannot prevent your door from slamming from time to time, but you can otherwise make your cat’s life more comfortable by minimizing its overall levels of stress.

Janice Borzendowski, author of Caring for Your Aging Cat: A Quality-of-Life Guide for Your Cat’s Senior Years, suggests that if you own older cats, you should “senior sensitize” your home by:

  • Placing food and water dishes close to where your cat likes to rest
  • Placing your cat’s regular rest area in a quiet part of your house, away from the everyday percussive noises
  • Purchasing pet steps or a ramp that will make it easier for your cat to climb up to and down from favorite elevated places, like your bed or a comfy couch
  • Switching to thermal bedding -- which is available at most pet stores and can help your feline retain its natural body heat -- since cats with chronic renal failure and other conditions often become very sensitive to cold temperatures
  • Feeding your cat from a pan with lower sides to make it easier for your cat to reach its food
  • Making sure your cat can easily get in and out of its litter box

I am an adult male contemplating getting another cat after my 21-year-old Pogo recently passed away. Would a female cat react differently to male visitors in my home than to female visitors?

Some pet experts believe that cats react differently to male versus female visitors. Dr. Jon Bowen, director of the behavioral medicine referral service at Royal Veterinary College, thinks that while the differences are minimal, “some cats are more aggressive toward men or children.” In his book Behaviour Problems in Small Animals: Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team, Bowen adds that cats may also react differently according to the clothing of the individual in question, as well as “what the person is carrying and how they are moving.” It’s even been said that certain smells and colors can lead to reactions -- both good and bad -- in cats.

Women may get an edge just because they tend to have quieter, higher-pitched voices that better match those of cats. Female cats may also be a bit more wary, as they have evolved to be protective of themselves and their kittens. By the same token, female cats can also be quite loyal and devoted to their owners -- men or women.

Overall, much has to do with who and what the cat has been exposed to in the past. In large part, we learn based on our past experiences. Since you are a male who has already raised a cat to the advanced age of 21, any cat in your household will most likely respond very well to male visitors -- especially those who remind your cat of you.

Why does my cat remove shoes from the shoe rack downstairs and bring them into my room, one by one? There are over 13 shoes in my bedroom every morning! My cat is neutered and it just picked up this new habit.

Think about shoes from your cat’s perspective: They smell interesting -- with scents of leather and whatever you’ve stepped on while wearing them. They often have fun, dangling laces or straps. And most importantly, you’re interested in them.

Your cat has probably observed your ritual of wearing the shoes, returning them to the shoe rack and then taking them off the rack again. If the routine is good for you, why shouldn’t it be for your pet?

On the downside, your cat could be falling into a compulsive behavior syndrome. Like the similar problem in humans, this can be caused by stress or boredom -- and it may even have a genetic component. According to the ASPCA, some cats with this problem will eat fabric, suck wool, lick excessively, chew or pull hair and engage in other unusual behaviors that can be harmful to your cat when performed compulsively.

As long as your cat is not engaging in such potentially dangerous activities, redirect its energies by playing with a pole toy that can mimic the teasing movements of a shoelace or strap. If your cat engages in sufficient playtime with you or others in your household, it will most likely lose its interest in your shoes.

My cats are very inquisitive and will investigate every new holiday plant and decoration in my home. How can I prevent them from doing potentially dangerous things, like drinking water out of the Christmas tree stand?

Many Christmas decorations do pose dangers to cats. Poinsettias, mistletoe and holly are all poisonous if ingested by felines, so be careful not to display them during the winter holidays. If you must display them, keep them well out of your pets’ reach.

Dr. Debra Primovic, a Missouri-based veterinarian and the managing editor of PetPlace.com, advises that you place your Christmas tree in a corner and secure it on the sides with hooks and clear fishing line. Select ornaments can be hung without hooks so inquisitive cats won’t swallow them. Cats also often find ribbon, garland and tinsel tempting, so it’s best to secure them or avoid using them altogether.

To keep the tree hydrated, try a tree stand that holds water. However, because this can attract cats, cover the bottom holder with foil or plastic wrap. Cats also dislike the smell of citrus, so placing orange and lemon peel around the tree will help keep curious kitties away.

My husband and I are driving to his family’s home for the holidays on an extended trip, and we’d like to take our new cat with us. What should we bring to ensure that our pet enjoys a good, safe vacation?

Your trip could either be a memorable adventure or a nightmare for your cat, depending on how comfortable it is with road travel. In my view, the most important preparation is to train your cat not to fear car trips. I’m assuming you’ve already done that. If not, please consider keeping your pet at home with a relative or some other trustworthy sitter.

Once you determine that all systems are a go for the trip, the ASPCA recommends you bring along the following:

  • A well-ventilated, secure and roomy carrier
  • Food and water for the duration of your trip (better to bring more than less)
  • Your cat’s vaccination record, if you’ll be traveling across state lines
  • A travel kit containing the following: bowls, a waste scoop, a litter box, litter, plastic bags, grooming supplies, medication, a pet first aid kit, a favorite toy, a beloved blanket or a kitty bed
The goal is to make sure you have all of the necessities, plus enough familiar items to make your cat feel comfortable in its home away from home.

Someone told me that I should never clean up cat litter box spills with ammonia-containing products. Why is that?

In general, cats are quite fastidious animals. If something doesn’t smell right to them, they tend to avoid it. This mindset extends to their litter box habits.

Ammonia is a colorless yet strong-smelling compound of hydrogen and nitrogen. Cat urine contains this compound -- it’s a byproduct of metabolism. That’s one reason cat urine is so pungent. It can even make your eyes tear and your throat burn when inhaled, just as ammonia can. Cats suffering from certain renal diseases tend to have more ammonia in their urine than do other healthy felines.

If you use an ammonia-containing cleaner, your cat will likely think its litter box is very dirty. Your pet may then avoid the box, choose another place to go -- your favorite carpet, bathroom mat or anywhere else that seems tidier to your cat.

Other strong-scented cleaners can also put off cats. It’s better to wrap your cat’s litter box in a disposable plastic bag or two. I like to place a paper bag between the plastic layers, with newspaper lined around the box. If you need to clean the box itself, try bleach diluted with water. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse off the disinfectant and allow the box to dry before your cat uses it.

What behavioral changes should I expect to see in my cat as he gets older?

When given the benefits of modern veterinary medicine and high-quality prepared pet foods, cats can gracefully enter their senior years with few, if any, detectable signs of aging.

While some cats can reach their mid-20s and still be active and healthy, not all age so well. That can be because of genetics, environmental conditions, prior illnesses or other factors. Many senior cats will display the following changes:

  • Loss of hearing and eyesight acuity
  • Constipation and “bathroom” problems, such as urinating just outside of the litter box
  • Reduced liver and kidney function
  • Some activity and muscle loss
  • Increased tendency to sleep
  • Less playful

Feeding your cat a high-quality food that targets your pet’s particular needs can lessen the impact of some of these changes. Speak with your veterinarian to determine what your kitty requires. Don’t ignore these behavioral changes and assume they’re just brought on by aging. Litter box issues, for example, are often tied to treatable health problems.

I’ve heard that you can tell just by looking at a cat that he or she is in an inquisitive, friendly mood. What signs should I look for?

Cats send out many different signals that can indicate what their mood is at any given moment. These include scents, sounds, and as you indicate, visual signals. Just looking at a cat can reveal a lot about its emotional state. The tail of a cat, in particular, serves as a strong barometer of mood. If the tail is held upright, with perhaps a flick or two from that upright position toward you, it is signaling confidence and friendship. Its ears will likely also be help up, opened wide, ready to hear what you -- this interesting, new possible friend -- have to say. Ears are vulnerable parts of the body, which is one reason why threatened cats will flatten them down toward the head. If the cat’s tail is swishing from side to side or is thumping on the ground, the feline is probably feeling anxious and less inquisitive. Owners sometimes see this after they pet their cats for a while. The feline is basically alerting others that it needs a quiet break.

After finishing his meal, my cat will often grab a paper towel, piece of newspaper or some other light object and cover his remaining food with it. Why does he do this? Does it mean he didn’t like the food?

The behavior you describe is quite common. A cat gobbles up his meal but leaves behind a few leftovers. Instead of just walking away, he then covers up the food with something, as you wrote. Some cats will even try to bury the food, pawing at it if the food is on something flexible. Not all cats exhibit this behavior, but many do. What appears to be a sad burial is actually more of a “camouflage.” Cats in the wild often cover partially eaten meals so they can return to them later. The cover-up also helps mask the food’s appearance and scent, both of which could lure predators and competitors. Your kitty’s habit therefore may have deep, ancestral roots. To prevent your cat from covering its food, place your feline’s food in a sturdy bowl away from loose papers. Only provide recommended portions so as to not have too many leftovers.

One of my relatives is allergic to cats, but when she visits my cat seems to be all over her, even ignoring other guests. My cat also hangs around guests who dislike cats and ignores my cat-loving friends. Is my sensitive cat trying to befriend everyone, or am I imagining this?

Cats do seem to ignore cat fanciers in favor of spending time with those who shy away from pets. This has as much to do with the behavior of your cat-loving guests as it does with those who avoid your pet. The answer to this mystery is twofold. First, even the most affectionate of cats may tire from too much attention and head rubbing. Your guests may have the best intentions, hoping to win over your cat, but your cat may be thinking, "Enough already." Cats usually enjoy spending time with their owners, whom they are used to, but even very social cats sometimes need time to get used to the unique voice and touch of a new person in their home territory. Second, if a person likes cats, he or she will tend to stare at them in the hope of making a connection. If cats detect direct eye contact, they will frequently try to avoid that individual, preferring the company of those who ignore them. Your cat-allergic relative, for example, probably tries her best to steer clear of your cat, while your cat likely considers her to be a non-threatening presence worthy of companionship. It's safest to just confine your cat to a room equipped with kitty comforts until your allergy-prone guest leaves.

I recall hearing that cat toys all fall into four basic categories. What are they?

You can find all sorts of different cat toys in stores, but nearly all fit into the following four categories:

  • Chasers: Your cat can chase and paw at these toys. Examples include catnip mice, balls and feather wands.
  • Rewarders: Toys that reward your cat in some direct, tangible way fall into this category. Balls with holes that release cat treats, for example, fit this description.
  • Puzzle Solving: Some of the best toys are those that cause your cat to work out a problem, such as how to find a ball in a maze or how to locate a remote-control critter.
  • Exploratory: Crinkly tunnels and small jungle gyms for cats fit into this category. These toys encourage your cat to explore.
Your cat can benefit from all these toys. During your next shopping trip, consider adding one or more of each type to your cat's toy chest if you don't have similar toys already. That way, your pet can exercise all of its brainpower and muscles. Just remember that you are your cat's favorite plaything; in fact, your cat may ignore most toys unless you introduce them and help Fluffy play along.

My cat never gets excited over catnip and catnip-filled toys. Should I try growing catnip or buying another brand?

According to the Humane Society of the United States, enjoyment of catnip is an inherited sensitivity, with only 50 percent or so of all cats possessing the genes that make felines go berserk for this herb. My guess is that your pet is in the 50 percent that are not sensitive to it. You could, however, try growing your own catnip. It's easy to plant and maintain, even on a sunny windowsill, if you have enough room. A substance called nepetalactone, present in the herb's leaves and stems, is responsible for the kitty "high." While this substance is still active in dried catnip, it can lose its potency over time. The fresh herb may get more of a rise out of your pet, so long as your cat is predisposed to react to catnip. You might also try growing valerian. Many cat owners don't realize that this herb is another safe, leafy delight for cats. Once the plant has grown, just snip a bit off and see if this interests your feline more.

I have two cats and a basset hound that get along great. I now have a new 14-week-old ragdoll kitten. How do I introduce this new kitten to my other pets?

Your pet family sounds wonderful. Congratulations on already doing such a good job at keeping the peace among your various members. Sometimes individual animals just click as friends, comparable to how we humans enjoy the company of some more than others. But we can help things along during the selection process and, as you point out, during the introductions. You've made a wise choice by adopting a ragdoll kitten. In terms of the breed, ragdolls tend to be affectionate, intelligent, relaxed in temperament, gentle and easy to handle. In terms of the age, it helps to introduce a kitten to an already established group of animals because the kitty has a greater chance of being accepted. Animals, especially cats, are very territorial. A kitten poses less of a threat. Even so, you'll still need to supervise initial encounters carefully. Hold your kitten in a room, then let your other pets enter, allowing them to sniff and investigate. Such supervised visits may need to take place over a period of hours or even weeks. If there's overt hostility, you might have to confine the kitten in the room or in a carrier for a short while, and allow the others to investigate through the protective barrier of the room door or the carrier grate. Be sure to give all of your animals affection during this time. Cats and dogs can otherwise become quite jealous. They will also require time to make social adjustments, since the new kitten will change everyone's life -- most likely for the better.

Do female cats have more health issues than male cats?

Female cats do not have more health issues than male cats do. If you are thinking of adopting a new cat, start a health checklist that includes the following:

  • Is the cat eating and drinking as it should?
  • Is it alert and active?
  • Is it coughing or sneezing?
  • Are its bathroom habits normal?
  • Is it displaying any signs of pain?
  • Are its eyes and ears clean and discharge-free?

If you’re considering adopting a new cat, it helps to know the health history of the animal. One of the best initial steps you can take is to spay or neuter your kitty. All cats can often enjoy a long, fulfilling life if they are neutered and receive proper care. To support a cat’s good health, schedule regular veterinary visits, feed quality food and create a comfortable home environment. In terms of the male versus female debate among cat lovers, there’s also a gender-based generalization that males tend to be more laid-back and playful than “watchful” females. Most of that belief derives from behaviors of cats that haven’t been fixed. There are many reserved male cats and plenty of outgoing female cats. When getting a new cat, it’s best to find one that best matches your own personality and particular needs.

I recently adopted a neutered male cat from the Humane Society. Some nights he kneads a blanket and holds onto it. Afterward, he meows at me a lot, grabs me and tries to bite. What can I do to stop this behavior?

Scientists recently experienced the shock of their professional lives while doing fieldwork in the Amazon forests of Brazil. They were recording some pied tamarin monkeys vocalizing, when suddenly a wildcat appeared on the scene, emitting calls identical to those of the monkeys. The episode wound up being the first recorded instance of a wildcat in the Americas mimicking the calls of its prey. But what could this mean in terms of your less wild house kitty? Can your domesticated cat copy other animals too? Cats Mimic Prey Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fabio Rohe, who worked on the margay project, suspects all felines could have the copycat ability. "Cats are known for their physical agility, but this vocal manipulation of prey species indicates a physical cunning which merits further study," he says. Although your cat may do nothing more than saunter from its bed to enjoy quality prepared food that you dish out, it still possesses hunting instincts with related talents that surface every now and then, if the opportunity arises. Opportunity in this case could refer to a bird squawking in front of one of your windows, or a mouse scurrying by. Cat Chatter "Cat chatter" usually begins with a bird loudly vocalizing near a cat. The cat becomes riveted to the bird. After just a minute, the cat will then start to "tweet" and chatter, its mouth moving in sync with the bird's beak. Studies, such as a California State Science Fair project conducted by Kelly McGinnis, suggest that cats communicate better with local birds than with birds they're not as familiar with. "To recognize them as potential prey, cats have to come into contact with the bird," says McGinnis, who believes that's the reason cats respond to local bird sounds. Contact in our scenario, however, could just mean seeing and hearing the birds through a coveted bird-watching window inside your home. Why Housecats Chatter "There are a few theories about why domestic cats chatter when hunting," says certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, aka The Cat Coach. "The reasons that make sense to me are that they chatter in anticipation or they chatter when frustrated. Another probable reason for this is that they are chattering in response to the surge of adrenalin." The word "chatter," however, implies meaningless sounds. Rohe's work in the Amazon indicates that the sounds could be more meaningful to the intended prey than previously thought. For example, the monkeys in his study were nearly fooled, and many feral cats succeed in catching birds with their so-called "chatter" technique. Feline Deception Krieger thinks birdlike meowing is only one skill in a cat's impressive hunting tool kit. Cat have also "perfected the art of stalking and waiting," she points out. "I suppose one could say that by not moving and visually blending in with the environment, they are deceiving their prey into believing that there are no immediate threats within striking distance." Mice and other potential cat prey are often no match for your cat's sensitive whiskers, padded paws to mask movements, keen ears and overall sleek ways. That's one reason cats often startle their owners when they jump up on them: You may not even hear your pet's approach. Can Your Cat Mimic You? YouTube is full of videos that claim to feature "talking cats," most of which simply show cats making unusual, human-like sounds when they are annoyed by something or they are about to expel a hairball.

I have a 6-week-old kitten. Is this the right age for my pet to receive its first shots?

Many kittens receive their first combination vaccine at 6 weeks, so your kitten is at the right age. This shot cocktail, sometimes called FVRCP, safeguards your cat against the following: feline panleukopenia (distemper), feline rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus) and feline calicivirus (viral disease). Vaccinations for rabies and other illnesses might additionally be included. Your kitten will then likely receive other shots when it is 9, 12, and 16 weeks old. Consult with your veterinarian for the appropriate timetable. It's best to spread out the vaccines as much as possible, since they can cause reactions. Most kittens and adult cats are a bit sluggish right after receiving the shots, but this should go away within about a day.

My 2-year-old female cat keeps collecting our belongings and putting them in her litter box. We just found my silver bracelet, my son’s chain, pencils and a variety of other things. What causes this behavior?

We often hear about cat hoarders (aka people who adopt more cats than they can handle), but it sounds like you have a hoarding cat! You are actually not alone, as many anecdotal reports exist of cats burying non-waste things in their litter box. Socks, for some reason, are common objects for this. Cats will also sometimes try to "bury" their food after they eat it, by digging on it and attempting to cover it up. In the food digging case, it's not a message to you that the food is terrible; it's often an attempt by the cat to protect the stash from other felines or to disguise the smell, which could again attract other cats. Various theories explain why cats might bury non-waste objects in the litter box. Some say the cats are just playing. Others think the objects irritate the cats in some way, causing felines to wish to dispose of them. Still others believe the cat might be attempting to protect its territory by safeguarding objects that have coveted human scents on them. When your cat engages in this behavior, do you or another family member go to the litter box and give your cat attention? Cat owners can actually train their pets to do all sorts of ridiculous things, as long as the "reward" at the end is added attention (from your cat's perspective). Should your cat receive this attention, it will most likely do it again.

My 16-year-old cat used to love car rides and going to the vet, but a while ago, he had a bad reaction after a shot. Now, if he even gets into the car, he experiences stomach upset and freaks out. Can I get him back into car rides?

Despite the bad injection episode, it sounds like your pet is going strong for a cat of such advanced age. As you indicate, regular veterinarian visits, which usually require car rides, are essential. The memory of the shot experience is locked in your cat's mind. Who says cats have a bad memory? As you can attest, they never seem to forget negative happenings, and they are incredible at associating objects, people and places with prior events. You now need to help your cat associate your car with good times. Begin with your cat's carrier, advises certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger. Place it in the house in a visible place, and let the carrier become part of your pet's everyday environment. You can try placing a blanket on top, and toys, catnip, treats and other favorite things inside and around it. "This way, it's part of the cat's world," says Krieger. Once your cat becomes accustomed to the carrier, take it with you on short car rides. Try to have someone else drive, so that you can stay with your cat to talk to him and distract him. It's good that he used to love car rides, as some cats just cannot stand the sound and motion of automobiles. Consider using Feliway, a spray that mimics naturally occurring positive feline pheromones. These are chemicals that cats deposit on desired people and objects when they mark them. Some owners report that Feliway helped their cats to relax and feel more comfortable in tense situations. Try spraying it into the carrier before car trips. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat's car phobia. While it sounds like the phobia was indeed caused by the bad shot incident, sometimes hormonal issues or other health problems can exacerbate fearful reactions. Your veterinarian could diagnose those or also recommend additional solutions for the problem.

Can a 4- or 5-year-old male cat still get neutered?

Cats can be spayed or neutered at almost any adult age, depending on their health. Virtually all animal health experts advise that pets undergo these procedures, unless you plan to breed your pet. Neutering is a relatively minor surgery with major benefits, such as desired behavioral changes. Neutering before cats reach sexual maturity, at about 6 months, can help to prevent the onset of more aggressive mating and territorial marking behaviors. These include fighting, roaming and urine spraying. Once a cat develops these behaviors, it can be hard to get rid of them. Neutering, however, can dramatically diminish these activities, and you can always have your cat undergo training to prevent any residual bad habits. The neutering procedure itself usually doesn't take much time, and most cats are returned to their owners on the same day. Keep your pet indoors as he recovers. Lastly, neutering prevents unwanted births and countless tragic deaths, since abandoned kittens often wind up at shelters where they are euthanized if not adopted. Neutering also reduces the risk of your male cat developing certain cancers.

My cat will not eat any kind of canned cat food. He is almost 4 years old. How can I get him to eat wet food?

Cats are creatures of habit, so your cat most likely is used to the dry food it has been fed over the years. It’s also true that cats prefer certain tastes and textures to others. The crunch of dry food might be particularly appealing to your pet.

If you are feeding your cat a high-quality dry food appropriate for his age and condition, then you needn’t worry about transitioning to a wet food. But it is a good idea to let him get used to a wet diet in case he needs to eat such foods at a later point because of a health issue or other reason.

Ohio-based veterinarian Amy Dicke advises the following when trying to get your cat’s approval of wet food:

  • Be patient and don’t rush your cat’s acceptance.
  • Begin by offering a small sample of the can food in the morning and evening.
  • Cats prefer their food at “body temperature,” but do not warm the food more than once or twice, as this will promote bacterial growth.
  • Crush some dry food and sprinkle it on the top of the can food or pour a small amount of the water from a can of human tuna over the top of the food.
  • Gradually reduce the quantity of kibble left out for the day.

Be sure to keep your cat’s overall food intake the same, following manufacturer guidelines; you don’t want to overfeed or underfeed your cat during this introduction phase.

For the past month, my 2-year-old cat, Leo, has been staring up at the corner of the ceiling by the front door and meows very loudly, almost like he’s howling. Does this mean something?

It's unclear what the significance of your ceiling corner is to Leo, unless a spider or other insect has established a web there or your cat is recalling some other happening that he saw. The more significant clues are your cat's age, sex and the location of his calls. Some smart cats learn how to push our buttons. You likely run to the door when your cat meows, so he is gaining your attention. You might then let him outside, if he isn't indoor-only. If Leo hasn't been neutered, he could be seeking a mate. Howl-like cries are part of courting behavior for both males and females. Neutering and spaying cats helps reduce these loud, and oftentimes annoying, vocalizations. Sometimes older cats will meow loudly, due to hearing loss and other age-related issues; however, this should not pertain to your 2-year-old. Certain health disorders, such as hyperthyroidism, can also cause loud, excessive meowing. If Leo hasn't had a veterinary exam in a while, you might wish to rule out any possible medical cause, since health problems can sometimes be linked to how and when a cat vocalizes.

What are the first shots my cat should have? She is now 1 year old.

Veterinarians often describe vaccines as being "core" or "noncore." The former are meant for all cats, while the latter are advised for certain felines. Core vaccines usually include feline panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus and rabies. It is very important for your cat to be safeguarded against these deadly diseases. Your veterinarian might also suggest that your cat receive vaccines for chlamydia, feline leukemia (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and ringworm. Out of this additional list of vaccines, kittens may just get the FeLV shots, due to the kittens' age and the fact that their lifestyles might not warrant the extra vaccines. However, your cat is actually past kittenhood. Generally cats receive their first combination vaccine at 6 to 7 weeks of age. Other vaccines may be given at 10 weeks and then at a few other intervals. For adult cats, booster shots are then needed. While not a substitute for vaccinating your cat, keeping your cat indoors can also provide some protection against infectious diseases, since your cat will not be directly exposed to other animals or to contaminated food and water. However, germs can track on to the floor via your shoes, your cat could sniff another animal through a screen door, or other methods of exposure could be possible. Better to vaccinate now than to be sorry later.

Is it OK to spay an adult cat that is in heat?

Ideally, a female cat should be spayed when it is 4 or 5 months old. In addition to stopping unwanted pregnancies, the procedure reduces the risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and howling. If you have a choice, it is not a good idea to spay a cat when it is in heat. At this time, there is swelling and increased blood flow to the cat's uterus. The operation may take additional time to perform and can be more difficult due to the increased blood supply. The hormonal peak at the time of heat may also complicate matters. Your cat should be indoor-only, which eliminates many dangers posed by outdoor living, such as cars, people and diseases spread by other animals. If your cat is in heat, keep her inside and wait until the cycle ends before spaying her. If this is not possible for some reason, talk to your veterinarian about the problem. Often, animal hospitals will go ahead with the surgery to prevent the birth of unwanted kittens that might later become pregnant. It's a situation that can easily spiral out of control.

Why would my adult cat have a bowel movement in her own bed and stay there?

It's good that you are concerned about your cat's inappropriate elimination problem, beyond just cleanup worries. A healthy cat is usually very clean. If your cat was feral, the behavior you describe could draw predators right to where the cat is most vulnerable -- sleeping in its resting spot. Sometimes, cats will use uncovered feces to mark territory. Do you have other pets in your home, and does your cat seem anxious around them? Or have you had some other new addition that might have stressed out your cat? If the answer is yes, it could then be possible that your cat is marking territory by eliminating. This type of behavior is called "middening." What we do know for sure is that your cat is avoiding its litter box. Since your cat is also staying in the bed where it eliminates, I don't think an unclean litter box is the real problem. You should have your cat examined by a veterinarian to determine if a health issue underlies your pet's behavior. Cats, if they feel pain when they go to the bathroom, will often associate the litter box with that pain and then avoid it in the future.

I have two kittens. They sometimes bite each other’s neck. Is that a normal thing for kittens to do?

It is absolutely normal for kittens to play in such a manner by biting each other in the neck region. Here’s why. Playtime is actually quite serious, especially for developing kittens like yours. It’s when animals, including humans, learn critical survival and social behaviors under relatively safe circumstances. Kittens and other animals often communicate with each other about the safety of faux “attacks.” This is done through body signaling, eye contact, release of odors and other cues. Such signals can prevent the playtime from getting out of hand. When cats in the wild kill prey, they often go for the neck area, hoping to make a quick kill that will expend less of their energy. They will also stalk, pounce and claw, which are again behaviors often seen during play. During a kitten’s first 12 weeks of life, it absorbs a tremendous amount of information about its environment, companion cats, you and many additional things. Learning about bite inhibition and other appropriate feline manners usually emerges from experience, such as what you are observing with the roughhousing. Young cats often test their dominance when they are around 6 months old, which is when a lot of feline owners report having their ankles nipped and otherwise observe misbehavior in their pets. Sometimes individual cats can be overly aggressive, which is a partly inherited trait or can be linked to illness. Unless one of your kittens is hurt during the playtime, they both should be fine.

My cat loves to attack the bed covers, but it wakes me up several times each night. I’ve tried playing with him more to tire him out, but that didn’t work. Any suggestions?

It’s fun to imagine what could be going on in your cat’s mind during such moments: The covers are soft and easily grabbed by curious claws. You are there, so he is happy to have your company and is eager to play. The covers also move slightly now and then, making his new game all the more satisfying. Because most owners are busy during the day, they tend to give their cats attention in the evenings. This, added to the fact that cats are naturally nocturnal animals, can lead to many sleepless nights for owners. Don’t give up on playing with your cat earlier or having someone else do this during the day. Another trick is to provide slightly more food during the evening, without changing his overall daily amount of food. The digestion process slows mammals down, which is one reason why we sometimes want to nap after a heavier meal. To sleep more soundly, try one of the many “cat off” sprays available. Felines tend to dislike the smell of citrus, and they may often leave a room when exposed to the smell. If all else fails, you might have to close your door at night for a while, which could break your cat’s bad-habit cycle. Also, consult with your veterinarian, as sometimes an overactive thyroid can result in hyperactivity.

My cat keeps crying, with a slight amount of blood coming from her mouth. What could be wrong?

Any time your cat is bleeding and the cause isn't immediately identifiable and treatable, you should not delay in consulting with a veterinarian. The fact that your cat keeps crying also suggests that she is in pain, making the veterinary visit all the more urgent. If the bleeding originates from the mouth, it could be due to a number of different reasons. The most common is blood that sometimes comes from irritated gums after a tooth cleaning. Even we humans experience this from time to time, after brushing our teeth. But it sounds like this isn't what's wrong here. Your cat could have gum disease, known as gingivitis, which can exacerbate such bleeding. Other possible causes for bleeding that originates in the mouth include infection of the tooth socket (periodontitis), an obstruction that may be wedged in your cat's mouth, an infection of the mouth itself, a salivary cyst, a mouth ulcer and more. Many feline diseases, such as kidney disease and feline respiratory disease, can also cause ulcers on your cat's tongue and gums.

My cat is 12 years old, very thin and won’t eat. I’ve tried hand-feeding her and heating her food, but nothing seems to work. What can I do?

You sound like a dutiful owner, as you have already noticed two symptoms in your cat: appetite change and weight loss. These, of course, go hand in hand, but it's a reminder to other owners to always be on the lookout for appearance and behavioral changes in pets. Although cats rarely die of starvation, loss of appetite is one of the initial symptoms of many underlying diseases. Cats can, however, succumb fairly quickly to dehydration caused by a sudden reduction of fluid intake, so make sure your cat has fresh water at all times. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that you should contact your veterinarian if your cat has not eaten for one to two days. Cats are creatures of habit and rarely miss meals unless something is wrong or different. This includes changing the brand or flavor of your high-quality food, moving the feeding area or adding some other stress inducer -- such as a new dog or loud new appliance. Some pet food manufacturers now offer special weight control and weight gain foods for cats like yours. My guess is that your cat has an illness that requires treating. Part of that treatment could very well include feeding your cat one of these unique formulas, available through veterinarians. Ask your cat's doctor about them.

My kitten likes to pounce on my fingers, so I sometimes “hand wrestle” with her. It doesn’t hurt, but a relative recently told me this form of play could be dangerous. Why?

Kittens are often attracted by anything that moves, so your twitching fingers probably stimulate the hunter instinct in your mouser. That's common, and kittens will also sometimes try to nibble on fingers with their "baby" teeth. By seven months of age, your kitten will have its full set of adult teeth. Such playtime can be innocent and harmless in the moment, but you could be unknowingly training your cat to view your hands as a toy. This gentle kitten nibble can later turn into a full-fledged damaging bite as your cat gets older. Another problem is that cats can easily become overstimulated. They get so tuned into what they're doing that they forget it's your hand and not a toy. When that happens, it can be difficult to get your cat to stop. Instead of "hand wrestling," dangle a pole toy teasingly in front of your kitten or offer another toy. When your cat settles down, reward that calm behavior with a head rub and treat.

Can age affect my cat’s sense of smell?

The aging process can affect all of your cat's senses. Many older felines lose some of their hearing ability, for example. If you have an older cat that no longer hears well, you can try tapping on the floor to get its attention. Cats can be quite sensitive to the vibration on the floor, and can somehow sense the movement several rooms away. Your cat's sense of smell may also be affected by age. However, all cats are different, so the degree of loss may vary widely. Loss of smell may have a link to dementia, which cats can suffer from too, but studies are ongoing. If your cat's sense of smell has faded, your pet may not be as attracted to its food. Felines rely heavily on smell to rev up their appetite and to provide important information about the food, such as whether it's familiar to them and if it's safe to eat. To enhance the aroma of meals for your cat, try warming wet food briefly in the microwave. You can also stir warm water into the food to create a bit of tempting, aromatic heat and steam.

My cat seems to be obsessed with the newspaper I read. She sits on the paper and become quite playful. Why does my cat do this?

It's true that most cats seem to enjoy paper products, such as boxes, tissues, toilet paper rolls and your Sunday-morning paper. Each cat has its own unique personality, so different aspects of these products appeal to different cats. Some love how paper towel rolls move on the ground. Others like the feel and crinkle sound of newspaper. My own cats are in heaven when I pull out a newspaper. Part of that attraction is that I am sitting down and therefore am available to pet the cats and give them attention. The newspaper then becomes associated with several good things. If you have time, try propping up some sheets to create a little tent for your cat to play in or destroy. Hiding food treats or toys under a few pages will also work. But do these things after you've read the paper, or else you might not have full pages to flip.

Is it better to adopt a cat from a no-kill shelter? And do such shelters really not euthanize any of their animals?

While laws vary per state, "no-kill" generally means that all adoptable and treatable animals will not be euthanized. Unfortunately, many of these shelters do not accept all animals in the first place. For example, a feral cat that once wandered into my garden had kittens. I worked to socialize both the mother and the kittens for a few weeks, but a local no-kill shelter still felt they were not adoptable, so they were rejected. According to The Hayden Law in California, "adoptable" is defined as "only those animals eight weeks of age or older that at or subsequent to the time the animal is impounded or otherwise taken into possession have manifested no sign of a behavioral or temperamental defect that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make the animal unsuitable for placement as a pet." It goes on to address health concerns. You will find loving animals in need of homes at all shelters. If a good no-kill shelter happens to be near you, I encourage you to visit it. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that shelters euthanize three to four million cats and dogs each year, so you could very well be helping to reduce this overwhelming number.

How do you stop a cat from peeing on your bed, on the bathmat and even on the dog’s bed?

Inappropriate elimination is one of the most common problems cat owners report. It's also a domino effect problem, since the minute your cat starts to do its business outside the litter box, your pet will return to that place (or in your case, many places) over and over again out of habit and odor cues. Your cat should be spayed or neutered, which will help prevent territorial urine marking. Provide a clean litter box in a quiet location that's easily accessible by your cat. Don't place the litter box near your pet's food or near noisy appliances, like the washer and dryer. Stress can also be a reason cats miss the litter box. Your canine friend might dominate your feline or otherwise make your cat feel anxious. Take care that your pets are properly socialized and get along well with each other. If you rule out all these possibilities, your cat probably has an underlying health issue. Bladder infections, infectious diseases, certain medicines, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, constipation and other problems can all lead to bad "bathroom" habits. Have your cat checked out by a veterinarian to determine what could be wrong.

My cat is 2 years old and scratches at the bedroom door and cries every morning from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. I end up sleeping on the couch! What can I do?

Often, when cat owners feed their pets at an early hour during the workweek, their cats want their breakfast at the expected time, even on weekends. In addition, most cats just naturally wake up at such early hours, perhaps tied to their internal clocks. Nevertheless, it sounds like you might have unwittingly trained your cat to engage in this bothersome morning behavior. Do you stumble out of bed, chastise your cat, perhaps feed it and then head for the couch? Your cat then thinks, "Attention, food. Hey, this is a good thing!" The easiest way to train a cat any kind of behavior -- good or bad -- is to provide some kind of reward, which is probably happening here. Try changing your cat's playtime and feeding schedules, moving them to later in the day. Before bed, get your cat interested in a toy mouse chase game, pole toy hunt or other aerobic, playful activity. Then provide dinner. Leave out some dry food and treats, enough to keep kitty satisfied (but be careful not to overfeed). If your cat is tired and full, it won't be so inclined to bother you at all hours. Another possible solution is to buy a timed feeder. You may not be up at 5 a.m., but mechanical feeders are always on the job, no matter the hour. The released food should keep your cat busy for a while. As a last resort, try gently spritzing your cat with water when it scratches on your bedroom door. Most cats hate the feel of water sprayed onto their fur -- the opposite of a rewarding experience.

We have a 5-month-old female lynx cat that seems to be very healthy, but we can feel her ribs and backbone. Is this normal?

You mention "lynx" cat, but this word refers to a few different breeds. There are the desert lynx and the highland lynx, for example. A "domestic lynx" refers to a cross between a small bobcat and Canadian lynx with domestic cats. They are gorgeous, fascinating felines, so congratulations on bringing such a beauty into your home. Ideally, you should be able to feel your cat's ribs, but there should be a slight covering of fat over them. In other words, you shouldn't just feel skin and bones. You should be able to observe a waist behind its ribs too. As kittens grow, they generally follow certain weight patterns. At eleven weeks, a normal kitten ideally weighs about 2.5 pounds. This jumps to about 4.5 pounds at 20 weeks, given the body changes that occur. By 50 weeks, your cat should weigh around 7 pounds. It's normal to feel a cat's ribs and backbone, but something else about your cat's appearance might be triggering your concern. We often hear about problems associated with overweight cats, but being underweight can be a symptom of underlying health issues, too. Get your cat checked out by a veterinarian to rule out such problems.

I just got a new kitten that is so sweet. But lately she starts to bite me when I rub her stomach. Why does she do this?

Cats bite for very specific reasons. They bite when cleaning themselves, when eating, when playing, when attacking and when they are defending or protecting themselves. There is sometimes a fine line between playful and defensive bites, and defensive and attack bites, especially in kittens. Your kitten is most likely becoming overstimulated. Young cats, and sometimes even older ones, can lose sight of normal behavior boundaries when they get worked into a playful frenzy. Many cats are also sensitive in the stomach region. You could literally be rubbing your cat the wrong way, so be sure to take care when petting this area. It also puts your kitten in a more vulnerable position, so she might be more inclined to attack. And remember that your kitten can't verbally tell you to stop. A sharp bite can be an effective way for her to communicate, "Quit now!" Your kitten probably does not have a stomach health issue, but it also couldn't hurt to have your veterinarian check out your pet, just to be safe.

Whenever my cat sees me wearing rings, he bites at them. None of my other cats has ever shown interest in my jewelry. Why does he do this?

Cats are very nosy by nature. Some felines even lunge at foreign objects, which is probably what’s happening with yours, as there seem to be no visual or odor cues that would prompt a cat to pay much attention to jewelry. Scientists believe cats can distinguish between colors, but as you said, not all cats go bonkers for jewelry. Think about the situation from your pet’s perspective. The objects are moving because they’re on your hands, and they’re within easy grasp of what sounds to be a very playful kitty. You might also unknowingly be training your cat to go after them by moving more -- rightfully so -- after he bites or by speaking and providing more attention afterward, even if it’s negative. Your cat clearly is in a mood to play, so try to redirect his attention to a pole toy or other object, turning his misbehavior into something more productive. If his bites haven’t hurt you, he doesn’t otherwise target your bare hands and the jewelry isn’t too valuable, then you could just have some fun with your cat during such moments. But a simple solution is to remove the jewelry before you hold and pet your cat.

My cat always wants to bite my arm after I pet him for a while. Why does he do this?

There are two possible reasons your cat wants to nip at you after you pet him. The first is that the extra attention puts him in a playful mood. Like a twitching string on a pole toy, your moving arm may stimulate your cat's need to work off some excess energy to play. But the more likely explanation is that your cat is telling you, "Enough already!" He can't verbally communicate this message, aside from crying out, so he has to do whatever he can to get you to stop. It could be that you've made your cat uncomfortable in some way. Many cats are sensitive around the stomach area. They can tolerate a certain amount of massage there, but after a while, the pressure becomes uncomfortable for them. Be sensitive to literal sore spots on its body, as those can also signify health problems. A visit with your veterinarian can help you identify any such problems. The good news about such unwanted friskiness is that cats almost always provide you with a visual warning before they bite. Watch your cat's tail: If it begins to swish from side to side, chances are he's had enough attention for now.

When I try to give my cat her medicine, she starts hissing, growling and going in circles. How can I get her to stop and take her meds?

It sounds like your cat puts on quite a pre-medication performance! Your cat may need a refresher course on good behavior, even if she has been socialized. Try to spend as much time as possible with her, giving her positive, tangible attention, so that when you need to handle her, she won't have such a snit. Most cats do resist pills and medicine. They have no mental way of associating good health with some yucky-tasting, threatening pill. It's therefore good to have a helper. That way, one person can hold your cat while the other administers the medicine. With or without this second pair of hands, the cat should be gently yet securely wrapped in a towel or blanket. Liquid medication is usually easier to give, as you can simply put it into a plastic -- not glass -- dropper, and drop it into one side of your cat's mouth while you tilt your pet's head. Massaging your cat's throat can induce swallowing. I sometimes crush pills and put them in a bit of water. You might also consider investing in a pet piller, a device that safely pops pills into your cat's throat. Follow with a throat massage to make sure your cat gulps the pill down.

At the end of a long day, I sometimes turn on the television. The volume can get pretty high if friends and family are over. Could this hurt my cat?

From a physical standpoint, loud noises emitted from televisions, stereos and other equipment won't hurt your cat's hearing, especially if your pet can move to a quieter room.

Keep in mind, however, that your cat's hearing is at least six times more sensitive than yours. If music or TV sounds blaring from a speaker seem loud to you, imagine how your cat feels about them. At the very least, you could be giving your kitty a major headache.

Try to keep your television at a reasonable sound level. If you like to listen to loud music from time to time, consider buying headphones. Many high-tech gadgets like iPods allow you to set a maximum volume, preventing your own hearing problems from developing. In terms of your cat, such volume limits come in handy if you plug your MP3 device into external speakers.

My cat, Samson, always wants to play with me, sometimes becoming very demanding. Unfortunately, my schedule is limited at times. What should I do?

Cats are natural hunters, so the desire to pounce and play is very much a part of their makeup. It's wonderful that you want to give Samson enough playtime, but there are also a few other things you can do to help satisfy him without having to quit your job.

First, vary the types of toys you use. Also -- and this is very important -- make sure you wind the action down gradually as you end a game. This steady reduction in intensity will help leave him more relaxed -- instead of abruptly ending the game, which could keep him revved up.

Look around your home and see what changes you can make to create a more interesting environment for Samson. A multi-perch cat tree placed by a window will allow him to watch the birds outside. Or, you can create a cat tunnel by connecting several boxes or paper bags together, and then you can hide little toys inside. Rotate the toys you leave out for Samson's solo play (the non-stringed toys) to avoid boredom.

For additional stimulation for a high-energy cat, look no further than cat entertainment videos and DVDs -- available at pet supply stores, online and through mail order. Most cats absolutely love them.

Our adult cat, Ginger, chases and bullies our two new kittens. How can we get her to stop?

Take a deep breath and relax because things are not as bad as they seem. Ginger's reaction is very normal for a cat whose space has been invaded.

Start from scratch and do a reintroduction. As you introduce the kittens to Ginger this time, though, do it in brief sessions of positive association. Let Ginger see the kittens for a few seconds and then offer her a treat or distract her with a toy. Do several 10-to-20 second sessions so Ginger learns that good things happen when she's in the presence of the kittens. These brief sessions will also help her to not feel so threatened. The key is to give Ginger a reason to like the kittens. After the introductions, put the kittens into another room away from your adult cat. Let them have their own spaces for a week or more, as long as it takes for Ginger to become accustomed to having other felines around.

My cat doesn't like to be held, but there are times when I must hold her, such as at the vet. Any suggestions?

You can train your cat to become more comfortable with being held by doing trust-building exercises. Begin by petting your cat when she’s relaxed. Then place a hand on each side of her for a short while. Do this several times a day. Gradually work up to placing a hand around her. When she tolerates this, the next step is to pick her up (just a few inches off the ground) and place her back down. The “pick-up and put-down” should be over with quickly, before she knows what happened. Make sure that when you do this, you hold her upright and not on her back. You also want to support her hindquarters so she feels secure and comfortable.

Work up to being able to carry her to another room and back. End each session with a reward, such as a treat or some petting time. Before long, your kitty should learn to tolerate, and enjoy, being held.

My cat drools a lot when I pet him. Should I be concerned?

In some cats, drooling is an involuntary response to the pleasure of being petted. The drooling is usually accompanied by a kneading action of the front paws. If this is not the case, then a medical condition should be considered. Excess drooling and slobbering from a cat could be a result of dental problems, such as inflamed gums or even a bad tooth. A common problem in cats, known as “cervical neck lesions,” affects the upper portion of the tooth, beyond the gum line.

Another problem to consider is that your cat may have a foreign object stuck in its mouth. There are times when cats will get a piece of string or a splinter of wood lodged between their teeth, and the discomfort will result in drooling. On occasion, the problem will be with the lip -- often difficult to detect without a veterinary examination. Ulcers or injuries may be the underlying problem here as well. All these situations need proper medical attention.

Regardless of the cause, a drooling cat should be examined by a veterinarian to help determine the problem so that correct medical treatment can be administered. If left unattended, conditions may worsen to the point that appetite is affected, and your cat may become seriously ill.

I have two cats, and each requires its own special diet for nutritional and health reasons. How can I prevent them from eating each other's food?

Offer them several small meals a day but feed both of your cats on a fixed schedule. Create enough distance between their food dishes so that they get used to eating at separate meal areas and pick up their dishes after each meal.

Initially, you’ll have to supervise at meal times to make sure they don’t steal food from each another. Soon, the novelty of trying to sneak “forbidden” food will fade.

My cat attacks her brush when I groom her. How can I stop her from doing this?

Brushing is very important to help keep your cat's coat healthy and to limit the amount of hairballs due to self-grooming. Cats have very sensitive skin, though, so it's not unusual for them to react negatively to being brushed.

First, make sure you're using the right type of brush for your cat. If you have any doubts, ask your veterinarian or a professional groomer. Then, go over your grooming technique. There are parts of a cat's body that are very sensitive, such as the flanks, across the backbone, and the stomach. Don't start out brushing in a sensitive area. Begin by gently brushing in a spot that the cat enjoys, such as right behind the ears. Make your brushing technique an extension of petting. Just do a couple of strokes, offer your cat a treat or some praise, and then end the session.

Make each grooming session very short so it ends before the cat has time to realize what you've been doing. Gradually you can increase the time of the sessions as your kitty gets used to the procedure, but still keep them short. Whenever you have to brush in a more sensitive area, do one or two strokes, and then go back to a favorite spot, such as behind the head.

It's also important to watch your cat's body language. Before she tries to bite the brush, she may be giving off other signals to indicate that she's reaching her tolerance threshold. Signs of increased agitation can include tail-lashing, skin twitching, looking back at the brush, ears rotated back and shifting body position. When you see these signs, stop the grooming session.

My newly adopted 3-year-old male Siamese cat has developed the habit of biting and eating paper. Should I be concerned?

Eating non-food items is known as pica. Your first step is to have your cat checked by the vet to make sure he's not experiencing any medical problems that would cause this behavior. Once your cat has a clean bill of health, there are several steps you can take to address the problem. 

First, do a bit of preventative cleaning. Paper should be out of the cat's reach to avoid reinforcing the behavior. However, leave out a couple of pieces of paper that have been treated with Bitter Apple cream. This is a bitter anti-chew product available at pet supply stores. This will help your cat to associate paper-eating with an unpleasant experience.

Finally, try to increase his activity. Siamese cats are athletic and need daily exercise. Use a fishing pole toy and conduct a couple of interactive play sessions every day to avoid boredom.

My cat Samson always wants to play with me, and he can get very demanding. I wish I had more time to spend with him, but my schedule is limited. What should I do?

Cats are natural hunters and so the desire to pounce and play is very much a part of their makeup. It's wonderful that you are trying to give Samson the playtime he wants but there are also a few other things you can do to help satisfy him without having to quit your job. First, make sure you are varying the types of toys you use. Also -- and this is very important -- make sure you wind the action down gradually as you end a game. This gradual reduction in intensity will help leave him more relaxed instead of abruptly ending the game, which could keep him revved up.

There are wonderful cat entertainment videos and DVDs available at pet supply stores, online, and through mail order. Many cats absolutely love them and they can be a way to provide additional entertainment for a high-energy cat.

Look around your home and see what changes you can make to create a more interesting environment for Samson. Place a multi-perch cat tree by a window so he can watch the birds outside. Create a cat tunnel by connecting several boxes or paper bags together and then hide little toys inside. Rotate the toys you leave out for Samson for solo play (the non-stringed toys) to avoid boredom.

My cat constantly grooms herself, sometimes to the point of licking the hair off her back and inside her legs. I do not see any fleas. What could this be?

As a cat owner, you know that cats are meticulous groomers. They spend a great deal of their time grooming after meals and before and after naps. If, however, you are noticing hair loss, this can be a sign of a problem that may require medical attention.

There are many reasons for hair loss, including but not limited to compulsive behavior, external parasites, stress, bacterial infections and allergies. Don't be quick to rule out flea-related problems, though. Sometimes cats are such careful cleaners that they rid themselves of all outward signs of insect infestation. Hair-pulling and chewing are warning signs that the cat is uncomfortable. Your veterinarian can help you get to the root of the problem and start appropriate treatment. Try to schedule a full checkup for your cat as soon as possible.

Often when I play with my cat, it hisses at me or at the toy. Am I doing something wrong?

Hissing is a defensive behavior. So, during playtime, try not to dangle the toy in your cat's face or to wave it frantically. Your kitty is probably getting frightened, and your attempt to entertain has probably become less of a game to your cat and more of a battle.

You can also move the toy away from your pet and not toward it. Remember that prey never willingly approaches a predator. The toy shouldn't always be in motion, so your cat has time to plan its attack. And make sure your feline gets to catch it often during the game.

Look for toys that are well-suited to your cat's ability and temperament. For example, your cat may need a small toy or one that doesn't make any noise. Toys like these are less likely to frighten felines.

My cat has really bad breath. Should I worry about this?

Are you sure it's your cat's breath? A bad odor that seems to come from the mouth may also be emanating from the cat's ears or other areas around the head. In any case, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.

Bad breath is a sign that there could be an underlying health problem that should be examined by your veterinarian. Usually odors come from bacteria. The source of bacteria could be an accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth and would require a professional cleaning by your veterinarian. Cats, just like humans, will collect plaque and tartar on their teeth and require regular dental maintenance, including daily brushing and regular professional cleaning and polishing.

In rare situations, there could be something stuck to your cat's teeth, or to the roof of its mouth, causing a bad odor. If your cat has recently been into any table scraps (a major no-no), such as chicken bones, a bone could be stuck in its mouth.

In any case, you should have your cat examined by your veterinarian to determine the source of mysterious odor.

How do I stop my cat from chewing on electrical cords?

First, check all cords to make sure there have been no breaks in the integrity of the insulation. If any spot seems chewed or frayed, replace the entire cord immediately.

Reduce temptation by securing cords to table legs and baseboards. You can find electrical cord covers at your local home improvement store that attach to baseboards. You can also bundle computer cords inside a PVC pipe. Cut a lengthwise slit in the pipe and squeeze the cords through.

All cords that you can't secure should be coated with a bitter anti-chew preparation, available at pet supply stores. Use disposable gloves when applying it, because it truly does taste bitter!

We just moved from an apartment to a house, and my cat has been urinating on our bed, even when we're in it. How can I stop this?

Before you do anything, first have your cat checked by the veterinarian to rule out any possible underlying medical condition. If the cause turns out not to be physical, then explore other reasons this might be happening.

For a cat, moving from an apartment to a house can be really frightening, especially if the house is bigger. Your cat may not feel comfortable with the litter box's new location, or might even have trouble remembering where it is. Ask yourself if the box is in a location that meets the needs of your pet. Try to look at the situation from your cat's perspective.

Try placing an additional litter box in your bedroom. After your cat uses it successfully, you can begin to relocate it to another spot. If you live in a two-story home, there should be a litter box on each level, so your cat will have no trouble getting to a box when it needs one. But take it slow. Your cat will need time to adjust to its new habitat.

Is it OK for my cats to lie by heating vents?

One thing's for certain: Cats love to nap in warm spots. While the warmth feels good to them, it is not really the best for keeping their skin and coat healthy. Excessive dryness during the winter months, from both the cold outside air and home heaters, may result in dry, flaky skin and a dull coat of fur.

To help avoid the flaky skin and coat, yet still satisfy your cat's penchant for a warm and cozy nesting place, try these ideas. First, place an obstacle, or double-sided sticky tape, near the vent to discourage this napping spot. If you have a sunny window (and you may have to locate two -- one for the morning and one for the afternoon), clear a spot nearby for your cat to be secure and comfortable so it can soak up the sun. You may want to get your cats a special cat perch or bed just for the spot. If there are no sunny spots in your home, you might try a gently heated kitty bed or a bed with a hot water bottle tucked under it. This will help keep your pets out of the direct draft of the dry heat, and they'll be as content and cozy as ever.

Where's the best place to put a cat tree in my home?

A cat tree is a great thing to have in your house. Location plays a very important role in whether your feline will ever use it, though. Since your cat most likely enjoys being near you, it probably would use the tree more if it were located in a family-occupied area. If you place it in the guestroom where no one goes, your cat will either ignore it or it will be forced to isolate itself from you, and that's something that neither of you would want.

The ideal spot is near a window in a room where your family spends time, such as a den or living room.

My cat sometimes dips its paw into its drinking water, licks the water off its paw and then drinks from the bowl. Why does my pet do this?

This behavior is more common than you might think. It's actually a very normal thing for cats to do. Some felines don't like sticking their heads into their water bowls because the bowl is either too small, which causes it to squish their whiskers, or it's too large and overwhelming. Since your kitty is dunking its paw, licking it and then drinking from the bowl, my guess is that it's testing the water's depth. Be sure to keep a consistent level of water in the bowl. It also helps to use a water bowl that has a design on the bottom, which will help your cat to gauge the depth.

Additionally, some cats just like to make everything an adventure, so they play a bit before taking a drink.

You may want to consider getting a pet water fountain. It will allow your kitty to play with the running water and yet it provides enough water in the bowl to quench a thirsty cat. The flowing fountain also keeps the water oxygenated so it won't taste stale like some standing water can become.

How do I get my cat to stop biting me when we play?

Ouch! That doesn't sound like much fun!  The problem may be that you're using your fingers as toys. If so, this sends a message to your cat that it's OK to bite flesh. Even if you're holding a small toy as you play, your cat won't know where the toy ends and your fingers begin.

To avoid this biting problem, engage your cat in play using a fishing pole-type toy. This toy puts a very safe distance between the cat's teeth and your hand. Be sure to put the toy away after playtime to keep the cat from chewing the stringy parts which would be unsafe.

I've noticed that my rather hefty cat is having trouble cleaning herself, especially when she tries to lick hard-to-reach areas. Is there anything I can do to help her out?

Losing some weight will greatly improve her situation. After consulting with your veterinarian to rule out any possible health problems, try to get her to exercise more. Play with her several times a day with her toys (also consider getting some new ones to spark interest). If she's not used to playing, you may have to start gradually, but you should be able to get her moving around more than she probably is now. Consider feeding her food that is specially formulated for less active cats. Also, brush your cat daily, which can help your feline with the clean-up chore.

How soon after my cat has given birth should I have her spayed?

If you live with a cat, having her spayed (or him neutered) is one of the most responsible actions you can take. With so many orphaned and homeless kittens available, preventing unwanted pregnancies is extremely important. And having your cat spayed or neutered will help curtail roaming, fighting and other undesired behaviors that can lead to injury or even death.

You should first consult with your veterinarian for the ideal time to have your cat spayed. If all health parameters are in order, the veterinarian may recommend the procedure near weaning (three-to-four weeks after delivery) in order to prevent another pregnancy. In some cases, the procedure can be done earlier but, again, the matter should be discussed with your veterinarian.

If your cat is not spayed, she will be more likely to develop mammary tumors and uterine infections. Early spaying is key in preventing these, and other, health problems. It is not important for cats to have a litter of kittens first, as this offers absolutely no health or behavioral benefits. Many veterinarians recommend spaying and neutering at an early age, prior to the first heat cycle.

Our neighbor has agreed to feed our 18-week-old kitten for two weeks while we are on vacation. Do you think it's OK for us to leave her alone in our house for this period?

I think two weeks is too long for a cat of any age to be left alone. It's not just the feeding and litter cleaning that need to be done. Your kitty also needs playtime and companionship. Your young feline will be confused by the sudden change and she will be lonely. Also, because she is still a youngster, she has that kitten's spirit of adventure in her. She could get herself into trouble when no one is home because she is not getting enough stimulation. I would recommend that someone stay in your home while you are gone. Perhaps there is a family member who would be willing to kitty sit and house sit for you during that time.

My two newly adopted kittens, Barney and Cassie, make quite a mess when they eat. Both pick up food with their paws and then place it on the floor before eating it. Any idea why they do this, and, more importantly, how can I change their untidy habit?

Congratulations on the adoption of Barney and Cassie! The behavior you're describing is nothing to worry about. In fact, many cats exhibit that style of eating.

Sometimes a cat will use its paw to spoon out the food onto the floor if the food bowl is not the right size for it. Make sure the bowl isn't too deep, large or small. You may want to try using a shallow bowl, which applies to the water bowl as well. Also, don't use a double bowl because some cats don't like having their food and water so close together.

If the bowl is the correct size, then your kitty may just not like putting its face into it. With some cats, though, the behavior is simply play-related. Sometimes they grow out of it and sometimes it becomes a habit.

Occasionally some cats -- particularly kittens -- will also poke at their food with their paws. This likely originates when they first learn to eat from a bowl. If a cat isn't sure about something, it may "test" the food first in this way with a paw.

To control the mess, you can buy a pet placemat that has a raised edge all around. This will also help to contain any liquid spills.

I bought my cat a new water fountain to ensure that she has access to fresh water at all times. But she seems more interested in playing with the water instead of drinking it. What can I do?

It's normal for a cat to be fascinated by water. Also, some cats are not comfortable sticking their heads into the bowl, so they prefer to dip in their paws. Once that behavior starts, it can become a habit.

It sounds to me as if your kitty is just very playful, or perhaps bored, and needs more appropriate outlets for her energy. Try to do at least two or three interactive play sessions with her during the day using a fishing pole toy. You can also create some diversions for her to engage in when you are gone so she will not be so inclined to play in her water. Try leaving a few open paper bags on their sides with toys inside. You can also create a cat tunnel by connecting some bags or boxes together.

Another wonderful way for a kitty to spend time is watching a cat-interest video or DVD (try your local pet store or visit the Video Catnip website or the CatTV website). You can then follow television time with a play session. I think if you just do a few play sessions with her every day, she'll start to depend on those as her source of stimulation instead of pawing the water. In the meantime, use a placemat with a raised edge around it or a plastic cafeteria tray to protect the floor under the water bowl.

My cat sometimes suffers from constipation. What can I do to help her?

It is important to have an understanding of your feline's usual schedule in this regard. It is normal for some cats to have only one bowel movement a day, while another cat may have three or more movements per day as a normal routine. But if you notice straining, this could be a sign of constipation. Feeding a combination of canned and dry foods is a good diet, but because of the intake of long hair when your cat is grooming itself, there may be a tendency for your pet to strain a bit more when having a bowel movement. Brushing your cat daily will help to reduce the amount of hair it ingests when grooming. With your veterinarian's approval, a stool softener or other cat laxative, which you can add to your pet's diet, may help. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best laxative and the amount to give, based on your cat's health. But it is important to first determine whether your cat is truly constipated, or if it just has infrequent bowel movements.

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