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.  

Not so Stupid Pet Tricks for Cats

Dogs often steal the spotlight when it comes to tricks because cats are  “misunderstood when it comes to training, enrichment and living a happy and healthy life indoors,” says Cary Rentola of the Larimer Humane Society. You may not be able to teach an old dog a new trick, but you can teach your cat tricks commonly associated with dogs.

The Benefits of Trick Training
Teaching new behaviors promotes a healthy lifestyle and helps relieve feline boredom while offering cats mental exercise, says Cheryl Kolus, a Colorado State University veterinary student and a volunteer with the Larimer Humane Society. Training also gives them an outlet for instinctual behaviors. “When you’re working on a trick through positive training, it becomes a bonding experience for you and your cat,” adds Rentola.

Trick Training How-to

Here are five fun tricks for your cat. Repeat a trick two to five times per session.

1.    Sit Move the treat up above cat’s head so your pet sits back. At the same time, say your cat’s name along with “sit.” Once your cat assumes the position, click and offer treats and praise.

2.    Beg Hold a treat over your cat's head so it has to sit up and reach with its paws to get it. Say “beg” along with your pet’s name, and the moment kitty does something resembling the trick, click and hand over the treat. Do this around three to five times, depending on the cat's attention span. Then put the treat away and say “beg” again. If your cat performs the trick without being asked, immediately offer praise and a treat.

3.    Fetch Toss a toy a few feet in front of you and let your cat run after it. As kitty rolls around with it, walk over and offer praise. Take the toy and say thank you, then pet your cat for a short while before throwing the toy again a little further. Retrieve the toy again as your cat plays with it, and this time, return to your original position before throwing. Repeat the procedure a few times, then give your cat a final rubdown and put the toy out of sight until the next session. Conduct these training sessions at the same time each day, and your pet will start anticipating this game. Every time you play, it will carry the toy closer and closer to you.

4.    Play dead Call your cat to a place it enjoys. When it comes, offer a treat and say its name in a soothing tone. Then put your hand on its back and say, “Play dead.” Gently press down on your cat until it lies down. Praise and click before giving another treat. With enough practice, your cat will learn to obey this command without your hand on its back.

5.    High five Hold a treat out of your cat’s reach, inviting your pet to sit in front of you. Once kitty comes, say, "High five," and lower your hand. If your pet tries to get the treat with its teeth, raise your hand out of its mouth’s reach. Kitty will then try to get the treat with its paw. If the paw hits your palm, click, provide a treat and offer praise. If kitty doesn’t reach for the treat, close your hand over the treat for five seconds, then try again from the start.

A few more important things to keep in mind as you train:

  • Keep sessions short Cats have short attention spans, so train in a quiet place each time.

  • Train before meals This is when your cat is most responsive. Be sure to break up treats into smaller bits so your cat doesn’t end up overeating.

  • Be patient Never yell at your cat, or “it will shy away from wanting to participate, no matter how tasty the treat,” reminds Rentola.

  • Time rewards correctly In the seconds it takes to reward a good behavior with a treat, kitty may get distracted. “For all she knows, turning her head is what got her the reward,” says Rentola. Eventually, your cat will respond to your voice alone.
  • Repeat often Hold one or two five- to 10-minute sessions at scheduled times every day for two to three weeks.
Despite their reputation, cats are very trainable and social. Teaching yours to obey your commands will help debunk the myth that dogs are the only loyal pets. Just remember, as Kolus says, “Patience, kindness and consistency are key.”