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.

Adopting a Second Cat

Himalayans tend to be exceptionally loving, loyal and intelligent cats. According to J. Anne Helgren, author of Himalayan Cats, it helps to get two Himalayan kittens at the same time. They can then keep each other company and develop a closeness that will likely last through adulthood. It’s possible to add a second kitten at any time, but an adjustment period will be required, since the first kitten probably has established its territory in your home already.

If you wish to add an adult cat to your household, Helgren advises not to leave the two cats alone together. That’s certainly important in your case, since the kitten will have a size and strength disadvantage. Ideally, the two cats should be able to see and smell each other, but not touch at first. Cats communicate with these other senses, so they will get to know each other a bit via odors and visual cues. Give the two cats time to get used to each other. The fact that you have a kitten should help, since the second cat may not feel as intimidated.

Litter Box Training for Your Cat

Litter box problems are among the top concerns of cat owners, and for good reason. Surveys suggest that at least 10 percent of all cats develop elimination problems over the course of their lives. I’ve worked at a shelter and owned many cats, including two elderly cats now. In my experience, nearly all litter box issues are related to underlying health problems, such as kidney or liver dysfunction. One of my longest-lived cats, a sweetheart who reached her mid 20s, never once went to the bathroom outside of her box.

If your veterinarian has given your cat the all-clear, however, there are do’s and don’ts to help you manage and prevent elimination outside of the litter box. The ASPCA suggests the following:

Do:

  • Scoop your cat’s litter at least once a day.
  • Change the litter according to manufacturer guidelines, or as needed. When changing the litter, also change any liners and wash the box out with an unscented cleanser.
  • Make sure your cat can enter and exit her box easily.
  • Place the litter box in a quiet location that will not make your cat feel trapped. Your cat should be able to enter, do its business in peace and leave when desired.
  • Switch to a standard litter box if your cat has problems with a self-cleaning model.
  • Provide enough litter boxes if you have more than one cat. The general rule is to provide one box per cat and one extra, especially if you have three or more cats.
  • Experiment with different types of litter. Each has its own texture, smell and other qualities that may or may not appeal to your pet. Most cats seem to prefer finely textured, unscented clumping litter.

Don’t:

  • Put too much litter inside the box. Keep it around 2 inches in depth.
  • Clean messes with an ammonia-based product. Cat urine contains ammonia, so you may only compound the problem.
  • Yell at your cat or forcibly move her to the box if she refuses to use it. You will only reinforce her aversion to both you and the box.

The Dos and Don’ts of Walking Cats

When used correctly and with the right cat, a leash can provide both you and your pet a safe way to spend quality time together outdoors while getting exercise too. Here are the requested do’s and don’ts:

Do …

  • purchase a lightweight leash and harness specially designed for cats.
  • allow your cat to get used to the leash by laying it next to sleeping areas or other spots your cat frequents. Your cat can then learn that it is not an object to fear.
  • reward your pet with a treat after first placing the harness on your cat. Remove the harness when the cat seems agitated or uncomfortable. Allow time for your cat to get used to the feel of the harness.
  • take your cat on indoor walks for a few days until venturing outside.

Don’t …

  • use a harness that’s too tight or loose. Ideally, you should be able to fit just two fingers between your cat and the harness.
  • force the leash and harness on your cat if your cat is experiencing high stress and discomfort. Some cats adapt better to the equipment than others.
  • aggressively pull the leash: Your cat will only learn to hate it more.
  • attempt to walk an elderly cat or one with health issues before first consulting with a veterinarian.

How Can Cats Play the Piano?

Many try to become Internet and YouTube sensations, but most fail. Piano-playing cats, however, have succeeded where others have fizzled into obscurity. Well over 16 million people have viewed “Nora the Piano Cat” on YouTube. (Lithuanian conductor Mindaugas Piecaitis even composed a Catcerto symphony for Nora.) And now there’s Schmaltzy, a New York shelter rescue that Animal Fair magazine has called “a feline prodigy” and what “may just be the most famous cat in the world.”

Owner Sharon Lampert has that last quote inscribed on the cover of her book, In America, Even a Cat Can Have a Dream: Schmaltzy: The Piano Virtuoso. Schmaltzy’s international fan club seems to prove that people the world over are smitten with Schmaltzy the shorthair tabby and other piano-playing felines.

Schmaltzy’s Story
Schmaltzy was only 8 weeks old when Lampert adopted the cat from the North Shore Animal League Rescue Shelter in Port Washington, N.Y. “I walked into the cat adoption room, and in less than a New York minute, it was love at first sight,” says Lampert. “He had a very big personality, even as a kitten.”

One day, Lampert found a toy piano on the street. She brought it home, placed it on the carpet, and Schmaltzy gave it a sniff. “Unlike any other cat, he tucked his legs under his behind and picked up his paw and hit the keys in succession. An artist was born,” says Lampert. According to Lampert, “Schmaltzy is self-taught.”

He now plays a black baby grand tabletop piano, donated by The First Act, a children’s music company.

Self-Taught … or Inadvertently Trained?
Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant known as “The Cat Coach” doesn’t believe any natural cat behaviors would lead to piano playing, except that cats touch objects with their paws. Krieger believes Nora and Schmaltzy were “reinforced when they first touched the keyboard. They were probably praised, given lots of attention and maybe given a treat.”

Lampert fully admits to rewarding Schmaltzy with food treats, after which, “playing the piano became his passion.”

Can All Cats Become Music Stars?
Krieger indicates that not all cats should be encouraged to play the piano or to perform other stunts. “The cat needs to enjoy the process and want to participate. When teaching parlor tricks, they should all be based on natural behaviors,” says Krieger. Proper training, according to Krieger, benefits cats in at least six different ways:

  1. Strengthens the cat-owner bond.

  2. Increases the cat’s confidence.

  3. Provides consistency, which cats crave.

  4. Offers the cat entertainment and a challenge.

  5. Diverts a cat’s attention away from unwanted behaviors.

  6. Enables the cat to tolerate practical and often lifesaving tasks, such as veterinary office visits and necessary grooming.

Training Tips
If you would like train your cat to play the piano, Lampert offers the following tips:

  • Pick the right treat to reward your cat. It has to be a treat that your cat loves, not just likes.

  • Offer the treat right after your cat hits a piano key. “There is a learning curve,” she explains. “Your cat has to associate hitting the piano keys with earning a treat.”

  • After a piano recital, pick up your cat and give a big hug and kiss. Let your pet know how talented and special it is.

The Web is now full of Nora and Schmaltzy wannabes, with their owners seeking to earn their own fame and fortune. It’s important to remember, however, to always put the interests of the cat first instead of focusing solely on transforming kitty into the next YouTube sensation.