Protect Your Cat From Houseplants

Cats are both perceptive and incredibly curious critters. They seem to know every inch of their territory. If you have a house cat, this means your pet has a mental map in place of almost everything in your home. Move just one fixture and most cats will immediately go to that spot to investigate the change.

The same holds true if you bring in new items, such as a houseplant. Cats have a natural curiosity about plants. Add that to the newness, stinky dirt, leaves, moisture and more, and it is no wonder that cats find most plants to be fascinating.

The first thing you can do is provide your cat with its own indoor mini garden. This can include oat grass, other edible grasses and catnip. You can find these seeds in most pet stores or online.

Plant the seeds in a heavy, shallow container that your cat is unlikely to knock over. Offer the plants to your cat when the shoots have grown to about 4 inches tall. (If your cat nibbles before then, he could kill the plants.) Keep the edible plants watered and maintained, and monitor your cat’s access, if necessary.

Aside from placing other houseplants in areas that are hard for your cat to reach, the only foolproof solution is to avoid plants that are potentially poisonous to pets. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 700 plants contain potentially dangerous compounds for cats and dogs. Sometimes the leaves are poisonous, and other times the roots or other parts are. The Humane Society recommends that you keep a list for reference in an accessible spot.

How to Toilet Train a Kitten

It is easier to first have a kitten use a regular litter box before graduating to a human toilet. Mother cats do help train their kittens, but felines in general naturally gravitate to material they can easily dig when nature calls. Most kittens and cats therefore have no problem finding the litter box and using it, as long as there is not a problem with the box’s placement, an underlying health issue, a behavioral problem or other complication.

Keep in mind that cats are also very driven by odors, so if they mess on your carpet or another undesirable spot, they might return to that area unless it’s properly cleaned. To prevent that, use an enzyme-based product that can help break down the waste material.

Assuming your kitten is litter box savvy and close to adulthood, you can now consider toilet training your pet. Jenn Spencer, author of the blog Cat Toilet Training, shares that the advantages of doing this are many. The benefits are “first financial, since cat owners will not need to purchase litter once their cat is potty trained to use a toilet,” she says. “Besides that, you will never have the dirty job of cleaning out a litter box again, which is typically the least favorite chore in a cat household. Another advantage of toilet training your cat is the elimination of unpleasant smells from your house, since you can simply flush it away and not have to let it sit in a dirty litter box for a few days.”

Spencer and other experts explain that training your cat to use the toilet requires several gradual steps. To simplify the process, buy a training system, such as Litter Kwitter. It includes four training discs that, over a period of time, transition the top of your toilet from a more standard litter box setup for your cat to basically just the toilet itself. The goal is to get your cat to jump on the toilet seat and take care of its business as we do (minus the jumping, of course!).

Whichever method you use, Spencer says to never force your cat to move to the next step in the training process until it is comfortable with the step you are working on. It might take a few extra weeks for your pet to get the hang of being toilet trained, but it will certainly be worth it in the long run.

How to Teach Your Cat the ‘Come’ Command

It’s a myth that cats are not trainable, so you can train your cat to come at your command. Cats just need some motivation -- like a reward -- to do whatever it is that you want them to accomplish.

It helps to start training cats when they are still kittens; they’ll retain the knowledge more readily. Even if your cat is a stubborn adult, these instructions from Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen and Lowell J. Ackerman, authors of Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Volume 1, should work.

They advise that you should use your cat’s favorite food or toy as a lure. You simply hold out the selected item and say “Come!” Repeat this exercise until your cat comes and associates the reward with the verbal command and action. Over time, you can try to replace the food or toy prize with head rubs and affection.

The authors say you can use such a lure technique to train your cat to do many things. These include using a scratching post, sitting up and begging, going to the bedroom or other rooms, and coming toward certain people. That last trick can be a real crowd-pleaser during the holidays when relatives or friends are in town. For these other tricks, just be sure to use different words. For example, say “Scratch!” for the command to use the scratching post.

How to Bathe Your Cat

I do not advocate that you frequently bathe your cat, since it can deplete your cat’s fur of natural oils and leave the skin vulnerable to problems. Cats have a good natural system for cleanliness, given these oils and their constant licking and preening.

As you point out, however, there are times when a bath seems necessary. Maybe your cat has stepped in something stinky, or its fur is out of shape beyond your pet’s control. If you go the traditional wet-bath route, be sure to use a shampoo that’s made specifically for cats (or a no-tears human baby shampoo if you’re in a pinch). Use big cotton balls to keep your cat’s ears dry, since water can get in and cause problems, not to mention discomfort, later on.

Pet stores often sell dry-bath products, but you can give your cat a homemade bran bath as well. Such baths may have originated with show-kitty owners, since regular wet bathing can leave a cat’s fur a bit soft and floppy for a few days before the oils come back and everything fluffs out again.

Foothill Felines Bengals & Savannahs, a group dedicated to those beautiful cat breeds, explains how to do a bran bath:

1. Start off with 6 ounces of plain bran, found in the health food section of your market.

2. Warm it thoroughly in a moderate oven until just warm (but not uncomfortably hot to the touch).

3. Rub the bran with your fingers against the natural growth direction of your cat’s coat.

4. Leave it on for a few minutes before a thorough brush-out with a slicker wire brush. The bran works as an absorbent, capturing excess dirt and oil. Since it’s just an edible carb, a few extra bits won’t hurt if ingested, but do try to get all of it out.

As per all cat baths, bran baths should only be given once every so often. Let nature and your cat handle the bulk of those cleanup duties.

Calm Your Cat

There is no question that cats are extremely odor-sensitive animals. A domestic cat’s sense of smell is reportedly 14 times stronger than that of a human. Cats communicate with each other, gain some of their sense of direction, judge food and more via smell and certain other senses.

While I cannot comment on all sprays for cats, there is some evidence that synthetic feline facial pheromones, found in certain sprays, can benefit cats. For example, a 2004 pilot study conducted at the University of Edinburgh Hospital for Small Animals found that sprays with these compounds did reduce “negative behavioral traits” in cats, which resulted in “less aggression and fear.”

Certain veterinarians and other animal experts support the use of these pheromones in sprays. For example, I recently spoke with Dr. Jane Brunt, a veterinarian who is also the executive director of the CATalyst Council Inc., about how to make cat carriers more feline friendly. “Some cats respond well to use of a feline facial pheromone, an odorless scent hormone that most veterinarians carry,” she said. In this case, she advised spritzing the spray on the cat carrier or on the inside bedding.

Per the Edinburgh study, the smell is thought to be comforting to cats. It is likely related to the chemicals your cat transfers when it butts you with the side of its face. You might also see your cat “marking” favorite toys, wall corners, and other areas with these compounds.

I would suggest checking with your veterinarian first, as opinions differ on the matter. Your vet, as Brunt suggests, may even carry a supply of the pheromone-containing spray. You can also buy such sprays (a popular brand is Feliway) at your local pet store and online.