Host a Cat Playdate

When best friends Carolyn Miller and Jennifer Cohen adopted kittens around the same time, they decided it would be fun for their cats to become playmates. The reality of the situation was that one cat spent an hour terrorizing the other cat, causing worry about the cat’s safety. They agreed that would be the first and last playdate.

The right preparation can make cat playdates not only safe, but cat-tastic too. “Cats are social animals and can have one or more select friends,” says Dr. Jane Brunt, a Maryland-based, cat-exclusive veterinarian. “Cats that are properly socialized tend to be happier and enjoy their environment more.” Brunt offers her top five tips for helping your furry friend make friends of its own.

Tip No. 1: Start young.
“Kittens aged 7 to 12 weeks are the most suitable since this is the critical time to shape positive behavior,” says Brunt. “Many veterinarians recommend kitten socialization classes, like Kitten Kindergarten, where kittens are allowed to interact with each other.” During these classes, kittens are also introduced to handling, grooming and transport. Food rewards are given to reinforce positive actions and reactions.

Adult cats can also be socialized -- they simply must be introduced to their new cat friends more slowly (see below).

Tip No. 2: Identify your cat’s personality type.
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, cats may be loosely classified into four categories: bold and active, easy and affable, withdrawn and timid, and assertive. Your cat may be easier or harder to socialize depending on its personality.

“Cats that are fearful and easily aroused will require more patience and time using positive rewards for tiny improvements in calm behavior,” says Brunt. The other three types will have an easier time in general. If possible, try to bring at least one easy and affable cat into each playdate pair. Avoid introducing a timid cat to a bold or assertive one.

Tip No. 3: Find a neutral territory.
“A neutral territory is a place neither cat has been,” explains Brunt. When neither cat has claimed a place as its own, you can expect less territorial and adversarial behaviors.

If a neutral territory is not a possibility, Brunt suggests choosing one room in your home. “Any room can serve as a playground, as long as you’re there.”

Tip No. 4: Make slow introductions.
“Always go slow!” emphasizes Brunt. Relaxed owners should introduce cats gradually -- over a period of days or weeks. Begin with complete separation, which means the cats are occupying different rooms in the same house. Then allow the cats to make visual contact.

From there you can move to free exploration of the same room, but only when the cats are supervised. “All cats should be ‘chaperoned,’ preferably by at least two different people,” says Brunt.

Tip No. 5: Know your cat’s signals.
Your cat’s body language speaks loudly. “A ‘Halloween cat,’ standing with its back arched and tail up, is exhibiting an aggressive stance and should not be further aroused, as it may exhibit extreme aggression,” says Brunt.

Owners who are familiar with their cat’s communication can watch for signs that the animal is uncomfortable or unhappy, and can extricate the pet from the situation. Recognizing signs of contentment and positive energy is important as well. Brunt encourages rewarding an animal with treats for “speaking” appropriate body language.

Cat Fur Can Identify Criminals

One of the best home security systems requires no monthly contracts or electrical wiring and may go unnoticed by crooks. Thanks to innovative new research, cat fur is helping to identify and convict miscreants, from robbers to murderers. As a result, your purring lap kitty could one day save your belongings -- and maybe even your life.

Inspiration From TV Crime Shows
Dr. Leslie Lyons, one of the world’s leading experts on cat genetics, pioneered the research. She enjoys watching certain television crime programs. “I’m a big fan of ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,’” she says, which included two episodes where cat fur was part of the evidence. Lyons, based at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, was already compiling information on cat DNA when a lightbulb moment struck her.

Lyons and her colleagues then created a DNA database that forensic science experts can use to help identify the source of cat fur. “Because cats incessantly groom, cat fur may have nucleated cells, not only in the hair bulb, but also as epithelial cells on the hair shaft deposited during the grooming process, thereby generally providing material for DNA profiling,” Lyons and her team report in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. So each strand of fur shed by your cat might contain DNA-rich cells at the root end or even DNA-containing skin cells stuck to the hair shaft itself.

How Cat Fur Catches Criminals

Lyons, who shares her household with four cats, suggests that a perpetrator might not be able to control one detail, if breaking into your house. “I can’t come out of my house without cat fur on me,” she says, adding that the same can happen to unwanted visitors. Anyone who enters a house where a cat resides leaves with one or more cat hairs stuck to his (OK?) body, clothing, bags and shoes.

If the criminal is later detained for questioning, or is caught pulling a similar stunt, the cat fur might then go to a lab for analysis. Thanks to the new DNA database, researchers can usually tell what general region and population the cat fur originated from. While the data isn’t firm enough to say something like, “This fur came from Miss Fluffy, a calico at X Street in Kansas,” it can help to eliminate individual criminals from the list of possibilities, strengthen existing evidence and identify probable suspects.

Cats Have Already Put Criminals Behind Bars

One of the most publicized cases, Beamish v. Her Majesty’s Court, P.E.I., involved a Canadian murder. “Investigators linked the perpetrator to the crime scene by STR (a certain type of DNA) identification of a single cat hair found in the pocket of a discarded jacket,” report Lyons and her team.

Consider Having Your Own Cat’s DNA Tested
If you keep your cat’s genetic information on file, that can help facilitate any forensics process, should a crime ever take place in your home. DNA tests also can:

  • confirm your cat’s lineage
  • provide additional information about your cat’s family history
  • offer info about your cat’s coat type and color
  • detect certain inherited diseases

Lyons suggests breeders of cats might consider such testing. Persians, for example, can be born with genetic defects that may cause blindness or kidney disease. The DNA information might even one day help to cure similar problems in humans, since both humans and cats are mammals and sometimes suffer from related disorders.

Above all, cats are also “good to have on your lap and just lower your blood pressure,” says Lyons. “They’re good all the way around.”

The ‘Animal Nanny’ Cat Sitter Cares for Lonely Cats

The Animal Nanny, Marna Stein, is a registered veterinary technician who works in San Francisco and represents a new kind of pet sitter -- one who provides more personal and specialized services for your cat. Would you and your cat benefit from having such a nanny cat sitter? You might be surprised by the tasks Stein and other super-sitters can handle.

Cat Sitter Supreme

With a cat nanny service, expect the usual pet sitter perks, only with a twist. For example, Stein and her colleagues will feed and play with your cat, but for lonely or otherwise needy felines, they can stay overnight at your home, too.

“Really social cats get lonely and are used to their regular routine with their owners,” explains Stein. “They will come sleep in the bed and curl up beside the sitter, who can help to ensure the cat maintains its usual habits.” Since she also has a medical background, including serving as a hospital manager for two veterinary clinics, Stein can administer medicines and provide extra support, even at night, for aged and ailing felines.

We all know about dog walks, but some cats also like to take an outdoor stroll on a leash. One of Stein’s regular cat clients must have its daily walk in the owner’s courtyard. “It’s often amusing because the cat follows the same routine of inspecting the perimeter and certain favorite spots,” she says.

Why Hire a Nanny Cat Sitter?

In addition to providing expected home comforts, a more specialized pet sitter can be a lifesaver. “One cat got caught underneath a bed box spring, and it’s fairly common for cats to lock themselves in closets,” says Stein. She has figured out how to foil this: by placing a clothes hanger on the inside door to prevent feline Houdinis from getting trapped.

An even more serious problem is when a cat stops eating for a few days, out of possible anxiety, depression or confusion over the changed routine. “Cats can get feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, and it can come on suddenly,” says Stein. “Even young, healthy animals can develop health problems, as anything can happen in a 24-hour period.” A good cat sitter would contact you and make necessary arrangements, such as transporting the animal to its veterinarian. Stein offers “pet taxi” services even outside of emergencies, since most cab companies won’t drive animals.

Top Questions to Ask Cat Sitters

Whether you are seeking a pet sitter for daily duties or for temporary vacation-time help, consider asking the following questions during initial discussions:

1. Are you insured?

Liability insurance will protect you from financial loss in the rare event that an accident should occur while you’re gone. “Any responsible professional business should carry liability insurance,” says Stein.

2. What kind of special training do you have?

It helps to have a sitter who has prior veterinary training and has taken pet first-aid and CPR classes.

3. Are you a member of Pet Sitters International or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters?

These are the two major U.S. associations for pet sitters. (If you don’t have a pet sitter in mind, you can also contact them for referrals.)

During first conversations, also inquire about forms of payment, hours of service, whether your pet sitter needs a key (Stein keeps keys on file for regular customers) and what you can expect when you return home. The Animal Nanny leaves behind a detailed note reporting what happened during her stay.

The Connection Between Nanny and Cat

Just as Mary Poppins had to win over her children, your pet sitter nanny may need time to bond with your cat. “Cats tend to be wary in general,” says Stein. “Even with good care, it sometimes takes a couple of days before they come out and say ‘hi’.” But the best nannies leave their cats craving more when they leave. One of Stein’s clients reported that her cat, Bella, looked for her beloved cat sitter for a while at the front door after the Animal Nanny’s work was done.

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.