The Reasoning for Indoor Cats

As a veterinary technician, Nancy Peterson has seen her share of hard-luck cases. But one cat in particular got to her.

“Some students found a cat that was hit by a car,” says Peterson. “He had a broken jaw, cuts all over his body and no owner that we knew of. It was so sad. He may have been euthanized had he been brought to another clinic. But we did surgery on him and brought him back to good health.” Peterson decided to adopt him, naming him Stu -- short for students’ cat.

Outdoor Cat vs. Indoor Cat
Stu’s lucky tale isn’t just a lesson about making your cat wear identification. Peterson, who is now the cat programs manager at the Humane Society of the United States, believes it’s a cautionary story for the 66 percent of cat owners (according to a University of Michigan report) who say they let their cats go outside.

“It really is a myth that cats have to go out to be happy,” says Peterson. “And unfortunately, the belief that cats can fend for themselves really harms cats. People just let them roam and think they will take care of themselves, when they can’t. They depend on people.”

Don’t Compromise the Safety of Your Cat
You may enjoy the idea that your cat goes out to fulfill an innate hunting desire. But Peterson says that outdoor roaming simply puts your cat in danger. “Cats that live outdoors will typically have a shorter life,” he explains. “We’ve domesticated cats: They can’t fend for themselves. They’re no match for a speeding car.”

Outside, cats are also pitted against toxins. “It doesn’t take too many drops of antifreeze licked off their paws to cause permanent kidney damage or death,” cautions Peterson. Dogs and even cruel people can also harm your outdoor cat. Roaming felines are additionally exposed to other cats, and therefore cat health problems. Diseases like feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and rabies can easily spread.

Since cats are predatory by nature, they themselves are a danger to other wildlife. After a four-year study of cat predation, a University of Wisconsin report estimated that rural cats kill 39 million birds annually.

Tips for a Happy Indoor Cat
Peterson admits that having cats confined indoors does put the onus on you to keep them entertained. “It requires more work to provide the stimulation that the cat needs so he doesn’t get bored and start making up his own activities, which you may not appreciate,” she says.

She recommends these simple items, which you may already have in place:

  • Window perches To simulate outdoor lounging, place a perch or cat bed at the base of a window that receives ample sunlight.
  • Cat toys To mimic your cat’s tendency to run after leaves or mice, make available a few wand toys or windup toys, which your cat can chase.
  • Cat tree Rather than let your cat get stuck in a real tree, provide a nice floor-to-ceiling cat tree for danger-free climbing.
  • Outdoor enclosures There are many styles of special outdoor “cat runs” that you can find by searching online. Never leave your cat in an outdoor enclosure unattended, since it can tear its way through if your cat is aggressive.

Additional Indoor Cat Safety Tip
Even if you never let your cat out, Peterson suggests that you still make sure your cat always wears a collar. Cats are sneaky and will try to escape. A collar gives you a better chance of being reunited, but it can’t fully protect your cat.

“Let’s say you let him out every day at 3 o’clock, and he always comes home at 5 o’clock,” she says. “The one day he doesn’t come home at 5, chances are he’s injured or trapped somewhere. You don’t want that to happen to you.”

Erase Your Cat’s Carbon Footprint

Chances are, you use energy-efficient lighting in your home, and you unplug your appliances. If you follow these and other green lifestyle guidelines, your carbon footprint -- the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created by your activities -- is likely at a minimum. But have you thought about your cat’s impact on the environment?

Why Your Cat’s Carbon Footprint Matters
According to lifelong environmentalist Holly Tse, “a 2007 survey by the American Veterinary Association states that there are over 80 million cats in American households.” Tse, who blogs about green living ideas for felines at GreenLittleCat.com, adds, “Reducing one cat’s carbon footprint is helpful, but 80 million cats collectively could make an enormous difference!”

Since plenty of eco-friendly cat products are now on the market, it’s clear that many pet owners want to include their cats in their green lifestyle. Here’s how you can “green” every area of your cat’s life:

  • Cat litter “Clay going to a landfill is terribly detrimental for the environment,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian, director of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic and author of The Cat Who Cried for Help. The next time you go to the supermarket, consider buying a litter that’s made from natural or recycled materials.
  • Cat bedding Check the tags to make sure your cat’s bedding consists of natural, organic cotton or hemp. “Hemp is durable and natural -- it basically lasts forever,” says Dodman.
  • Cat carriers Carriers made from materials like recycled plastic are better for the planet and your cat. Advises Tse: “Petmate makes a kennel that is made from 25 percent recycled materials.” Other manufacturers offer carriers made out of hemp and even recycled water bottles.
  • Cat toys It’s easy and fun to make your own cat toys. For example, try making the following toys out of a toilet paper roll:

    1.  “Put treats inside it, close its sides with sticky tape, poke a few holes and toss it to your cat,” suggests Dodman. “You just used what was going to be waste.”

    2.  “Press it flat and cut it into 1/4-inch rings. Pop the rings back into shape and toss into the air for your cat to catch,” offers Tse.
  • Cat treats Eco-friendly bites are the most delectable for your cat. Look for organic catnip -- or better yet, grow your own. Visit OnlyNaturalPet.com or you local pet store for a Grow Your Own Catnip Plant kit.
  • Cleaners If you clean your home with a variety of chemical-based products, it’s time to rethink your cleaning methods. Harsh chemicals are bad for the environment and are a turnoff to your cat. They can also be disastrous for its health. “Over time, our pets develop a much higher concentration of toxic chemicals in their systems than humans do,” says Tse. “Since [your cat] spends so much time grooming itself, it may ingest the chemicals.”For a toxin-free home environment, try enzyme-based products. “Enzymes are biomolecules that digest the organic odor-causing substances found in cat urine,” explains Tse. Dodman has an even simpler solution: “There is nothing you need to clean in a house that you can’t clean with vinegar and baking soda.”

Embrace the Green Mindset
When it comes to your cat’s needs, always mind the three R’s: Instead of buying brand-new supplies, reduce waste by reusing and recycling. Sign up at freecycle.org, where you can swap items locally with others, offering up what you don’t want and reusing useful items that others don’t need.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to spay or neuter your cat. “A female cat and her offspring can make 42,000 cats in seven years,” says Dodman. “The planet is already teeming with one life form [humans], so you don’t want a surplus of carbon footprints.”

By taking these green steps, you’ll help your cat veer off the trail of harmful carbon footprints and follow the path to saving our planet.

Cat Product Trends for 2010

Fat cats now have a new incentive to exercise: They can work for their kibble. Talk to Me Pet Products has developed the new Talk to Me Rubber Treatball, which owners can use to entice their pets to bat around the ball and chase it for dry food. The ball also plays a 12-second recorded message from you every time kitty swats the toy. "A lot of people have fun with this," says Mike Sachtleben, the company's sales manager. "They say things like, 'Get your ball' or 'I love you.'"

The balls, which are priced from $13.99 to $17.99, are among thousands of pet products that will be featured at the American Pet Product Association's (APPA) Global Pet Expo, March 25-27 in Orlando, Fla. The 2010 show features 750 exhibitors. It is not open to the public, but professional buyers from around the world attend.

Pet Product Spending on the Rise
Although fallout from the worldwide recession continues, the APPA says spending on pet products and services has been on the rise. Many of the purchases come from owners buying “products that allow us to keep our pets well taken care of in spite of our more frantic personal lives,” says APPA President Bob Vetere. "High-tech items like timed feeding, watering devices, electric fences, automatic litter box cleaners and the like allow us to work and keep our pets well."

Here are three cat products you may want to consider bringing into your home:

1.  "Space-age" self-warming bed Now that heated seats are standard in most new cars, it's only natural that your cat should have a heated cushion of its own. Simple Solution's Self-Warming Thermal Cat Cushion deploys a "space-age material" that reflects a kitty's body heat back to the animal. With a plush fur pad cover, the thermal qualities help soothe a cat's aching bones. It’s perfect for the aged, infirm or just plain spoiled cat. It’s machine-washable too.

2.  Stress-relief gel Help your cat survive thunderstorms and other nerve-racking events. Vet's Best now makes Comfort Calm Gel with a mix of valerian root -- which the ancient Greeks used to help calm nerves and sleeplessness -- and tryptophan, a well-known calming ingredient. The line of natural products, developed by Dr. Dawn Curie Thomas, a veterinarian, is billed as a healthy way to help care for your cat. According to Thomas, Comfort Calm Gel is a soothing, calming remedy that eases the feline stress of travel, big events and loud noises.

3.  Air purifier Cat allergies are reportedly on the rise. Unlike humans who tend to get runny noses and scratchy throats during allergy season, cat reactions tend to manifest themselves in itchy skin. Some pets scratch so much that they develop sores. But Annette and Mike Uda believe they’ve found a solution for their allergy-afflicted cat, Tasha.

Uda, who works in the indoor air quality control industry, and his wife use powerful, medical-grade ultraviolet light technology and allergen filters to turn homes and professional offices like theirs into safe places for pets. PetAirapy makes portable and stationary heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems starting at $395. "I think this is going to be a major breakthrough in the industry," says Annette. "There's nothing out there right now to treat pet allergies except to give them medicine."

The fact that we spend more on such pet products these days is a continuation of efforts to "humanize" our pets. Vetere explains, "When we have a pet we can come home to who loves us unconditionally, never complains or has a bad thing to say, we want to tell them thank you.” You can thank your own cat with one of the mentioned products, which will be in pet stores soon, following the Global Pet Expo.

Outdoor Enclosures for Cats

Glenda Moore of Utah could be called a cat lover: The U.S. Forest Service employee shares her home with eight felines, which she lets enjoy fresh air and bird watching. Her cats luxuriate within the safety of a 26-foot enclosure that includes a ladder, perches, a scratching post and even wind chimes. "The cats get the benefit of the fresh air, the ability to check out the activity in the backyard and a different place to nap," she says.

Cat Enclosure Options
If you want to offer your own cat a secure place to experience the great outdoors, you have a number of options. You can purchase a pre-built cat enclosure, assemble a structure from a kit or plans, or you can come up with your own design. Kristine Kischer, owner of Toronto-based Habitat Haven, says most of her customers start with modest enclosures, then remodel and build up. "It doesn't have to be this humongous expense right off the get-go," she says. "I've had one lady add on five times in the last six years."

Habitat Haven, which ships throughout North America, offers a selection of kits. The company also allows you to plan an enclosure by choosing different elements. A "starter" enclosure runs from $500 to $1,000. The kit arrives with instructions and all necessary hardware.

Cost-effective Solutions
You needn't worry about spending a fortune. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, thinks an outdoor enclosure is such a great idea, she installed one herself. "I love outdoor enclosures for cats! I built one off a window in our hospital with lumber and fencing wire to prove to people that you don't have to spend millions to get a safe, fun enclosure," says Dr. Colleran, who practices in Chico, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Major pet organizations generally are in favor of outdoor enclosures for cats too. The Humane Society of the United States sells portable enclosures on its Web site. There, you'll also find information about a number of businesses that sell plans, kits and pre-built structures.

A Cat Enclosure Checklist
As you plan an enclosure, Dr. Colleran and other experts list several important considerations:

  • Access How will your kitty move from your house to the enclosure? Will you allow free access, letting your cat come and go at will? "One of the most important considerations for me was that I only had to prop open a window to allow the cats access to the cat run," Moore says. Access should be energy-efficient, safe and easy, advises Dr. Colleran. "A covered cat door is a good choice if it is insulated," she says.
  • Security and protection Test every seam to make sure your enclosure is secured to the ground so that your cat can't dig its way out, Dr. Colleran cautions. You'll also want to ensure that your cat has a shady, fully covered space that can offer relief from the sun and weather.

    Your enclosure should be large enough to accommodate the family cats without overcrowding, which can lead to behavior problems. Each cat should have enough room to claim its own space and walk comfortably in and out of the enclosure.
  • Cleanliness Use materials that you can easily clean, and practice flea control in areas that contact the soil. Regular cleaning will help protect your kitty's health and avoid the buildup of unpleasant odors.
  • Enrichment Vertical climbing and perches make an enclosure more interesting for your cat, says Dr. Colleran. Moore suggests providing separate areas for watching backyard activity and quietly snoozing.
  • Neighborliness Consider both what you want to view in your backyard and what others may be able to see, says Kischer. Put your enclosure in a place where it isn't publicly visible -- that's a plus for your cats and your neighbors.

Once you build an enclosure, you'll need to introduce kitty to its new space. Let your cat investigate at its own pace, advises Kischer. Soon enough, she says, you'll have peace of mind while your cat enjoys a bit of risk-free fresh air and stimulation.

Homemade Toys for Cats

If you have ever bought a fancy cat toy only to find your pet later playing with the packaging instead of the toy, you’re not alone. Baffled cat owners often wonder what went wrong. Some even take it personally. Your independent-minded kitty’s choice of diversion, though, is more a result of its genetics than its feelings towards you.

Because your cat is a predatory animal by nature, a simple object that engages all of its instincts will attract its attention the most. Homemade toys often satisfy kitty the most. To better understand their benefits, we consulted with expert Holly Tse, author of Make Your Own Cat Toys: Saving the Planet One Cat at a Time (CreateSpace 2008) and owner of the Makeyourowncattoys Web site. Along with her insights, she offered useful ideas to help you create your cat’s next favorite toy -- inexpensively and painlessly.

Consider the Benefits
Homemade toys not only benefit your cat, but they may also enhance your own lifestyle. Tse shares her top two reasons that homemade often trumps store-bought when it comes to cat toys:

You reduce your environmental impact “Some of the best homemade toys can be made by reusing or recycling items you already have around the house,” says Tse. By putting your “garbage” to good use, you divert usable objects away from landfills and direct them instead toward your eager kitty -- a plus in our eco-conscious times.

It’s fun and safe for you and your cat Making homemade cat toys is fun and creative, and it gives you the opportunity to bond more closely with your cat, says Tse. When it comes to safety, there won’t be any scares about lead paint in toys. “If you buy a toy made overseas, you don’t know what materials went into the manufacturing process,” explains Tse. “However, if you make a toy out of an old gym sock, then it’s really up to you to determine how toxic it is,” a smiling Tse adds.

Try It Yourself…
Ready to try your hand at creating your household’s next most popular cat toy? Here are four creative ideas from Tse’s book:

1. Lazy Wrestle Sausage (prep time: two minutes)
What you’ll need: one sock, one plastic grocery bag, one tablespoon organic catnip, one sturdy shoelace
How you’ll do it: Place the catnip in the sock. Stuff the sock with the grocery bag. It should feel soft and pliable to the touch. If it feels too stiff, cut away excess plastic from the bag. Next, tie the shoelace around the open end of the sock, about 2 inches from the end. The toy is now ready for a game of tug-of-war.

2. Dream Catcher (prep time: less than one minute)
What you’ll need: one CD, bright sunshine
How you’ll do it: Hold the CD in the natural light so that it casts reflections throughout the room. Try angling the reflection so that your cat can chase the light beam along the floor and walls.

3. Polar Ribbon (prep time: five minutes)
What you’ll need: old polar fleece jacket or top, one chopstick, one thick rubber band (like the ones used for broccoli), scissors
How you’ll do it: Cut a 1-inch-wide lengthwise strip from the polar fleece top. Continue cutting strips until they add up to 50-70 inches in length. Tie the strips together with double knots to form a very long ribbon. Tie a knot at one end of the ribbon, and tie the other end of the ribbon around the elastic band. Wrap the band around the wide end of the chopstick until it is secure. Now, swirl the ribbon above your cat’s head or dangle it above kitty’s belly. Watch her chase it and swat it.

4. Sweep Around (prep time: two minutes)
What you’ll need: one toilet paper roll, scissors
How you’ll do it: Cut one end of the toilet paper roll to make parallel lengthwise strips, about 2.5 inches long and 0.3 inches wide each. Cut all the way around the roll to form the bristle end of the broom. Press the toilet paper roll flat, then fold it in half lengthwise. Fold again. Fluff up the sweeper bristles so that it fans out like a broom. Sweep Around is now ready to sweep kitty off her feet.

Tse reminds that you should always try to supervise your cat when it is playing with toys, homemade or otherwise. Store the toys in an attractive, covered basket, or other container, until ready for use. As a final word of advice, Tse says, “Avoid items that your cat may want to eat or that have the potential to cause injury.” In fact, she concludes, “when in doubt, just leave it out.”