The Hottest New Cat Products

In just a few weeks, pet product manufacturers from around the world will be descending upon Orlando for the 2011 Global Pet Expo. Presented by the American Pet Products Association and the Pet Industry Distributors Association, Global Pet Expo is the pet industry’s largest annual trade show, showcasing new items to help improve cats’ lives.

Below, pet lifestyle expert Tierra Bonaldi provides us with a sneak peek of some of the hottest new cat items.

Functional and Fashionable Cat Products
Clunky, unattractive cat scratchers, cat trees and more are being phased out in favor of stylish replacements. “There is a huge trend in pet products that can both accent home decor, but still be practical,” says Bonaldi.

  • SkratchKabin
    Brinsea Products Inc.
    The SkratchKabin is a stylish new indoor hideaway for cats. Your cat can scratch, play and sleep while you enjoy the cabin’s fun and minimalist cat shape. Bonaldi thinks it’s “great for keeping cats off the couches and it’s well-designed to fit in with the rest of the furniture.”
  • ModaPet Bowls
    : ModaPet
    Moda is Italian for “fashion,” so the name is perfect for these new bowls that sport bright, bold colors that are, again, meant to pair well with your home decor. “I love that they are BPA-free and the fun colors really pop in the kitchen!” says Bonaldi. (BPA is an organic compound used to make some plastics, resins and other materials. While tests in the U.S. continue to determine its safety, Canada last year declared it to be a toxic substance.) The bowls are made out of food-grade plastics. They are also skid resistant and dishwasher safe.

Good Cat Health Is Always in Style
Many of the new products that will be featured at the expo help to promote cat health, such as pet foods made out of quality ingredients. “Pet owners are shifting to healthier eating options, like all-natural and organic, and that is extending to the products they are feeding their animals,” explains Bonaldi.

How and what cats drink is also gaining new attention this year, as evidenced by products such as the following:

  • Drinkwell Pet Fountain
    Veterinary Ventures Inc.
    This fountain’s patented free-falling stream is enticing to cats and provides a functional, tranquil and convenient way to keep your pet properly hydrated. “Cats love running water,” says Bonaldi, “and the design of this fountain is really upscale and unexpected.”
  • Fresh Breath
    This natural water additive helps provide cats with daily oral care. According to the manufacturer, its ingredients promote healthy gums and eliminate bad breath for up to 12 hours. “Hygiene, especially oral care, has become a very important issue among pet owners,” Bonaldi explains. “In order for pets to live long, healthy lives, they must have routine preventative dental care. This can be difficult for cats, so the newest, most effective products are targeted at making dental care easier for cats and their owners.”

Cat Litter Box Odors Erased
Another group of products is helping owners with the dreaded litter-box maintenance and clean-up chores.

  • Always Fresh
    Talk to Me Pets
    Sprinkle Always Fresh in your cat’s litter box daily to help keep it smelling clean and pleasant. This moisture-activated litter freshener is safe for pets, people and the planet, according to the manufacturer. Bonaldi loves “that it is activated each time the cat visits the litter box.”

These are just a few of the more than 3,000 new products that will be showcased at this year’s Global Pet Expo, which boasts 11 football fields’ worth of pet products. The event will take place from March 16 to 18 at the Orange County Convention Center. For more information, visit the Global Pet Expo website.

Photo Credit: Allison Anderson, The Impetus Agency.

Top 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Cat Owners

As you’re writing down your new year’s resolutions, take a minute to jot down some resolutions for your cat. If you’d like to resolve to make life a little better for your cat this year, there are plenty of good ideas to put in place.

Resolution No. 1: I will schedule regular playtime with my cat.
According to Dr. E’Lise Christensen, a veterinary behaviorist in New York, most cats don’t get enough play sessions with their family members. “Lack of appropriate interaction with human family members can increase aggression, destruction and other objectionable behaviors,” says Christensen. But just 10 minutes each day of focused play can help avoid that. Christensen recommends splitting that time into two sessions of five minutes each. Integrate them so that they become part of your daily routine.

Resolution No. 2: I will focus on my cat’s dental health.
“Almost all cats have significant dental disease by the time they are a few years old,” says Dr. Patricia Joyce, an emergency veterinarian for New York City Veterinary Specialists. “Since they are long-lived, their oral health can be really terrible by the time they are seniors.” If your cat will tolerate it, try brushing its teeth once a week. If not, schedule yearly cleanings with your veterinarian.

Resolution No. 3: I will get my cat to an appropriate weight.
It’s estimated that 25 percent of cats are overweight due to their sedentary lifestyle. Dr. Katy Nelson of the Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Va., suggests imposing a feeding schedule that starts slowly. “First, leave the food out for about an hour, then pick it up. Do this multiple times a day,” she says. “This will help get your kitty accustomed to being fed a certain amount at a certain time, as opposed to grazing all day. Over a period of two months, you can get your cat fully enrolled in a twice- to three-times-daily feeding schedule so that you can control the amount he or she eats.”

Resolution No. 4: I will start and contribute to a savings account for my cat.
Veterinary care is expensive, and emergencies can happen at any moment. Joyce notes that creating a nest egg for these occurrences can ease the pain. If you go several years without an emergency, consider using the fund for preventive treatments, like teeth cleanings.

Resolution No. 5: I will help my cat tap into his or her animal instincts.
Christensen says that cats in the wild normally eat only after successfully catching prey, or scavenging. You can meet your cat's need for puzzle-solving and predatory hunting by making it work for its food. “Have your cats work for at least 50 percent of their daily food ration by using food-dispensing toys or puzzles,” she says. This could also have the side benefit of helping shed unnecessary pounds. 

Resolution No. 6: I will carrier-train my cat.
Christensen says that carrier-trained cats are easier to work with in an emergency, which results in better medical care. Your cat may not enjoy this resolution very much, but resolutions by definition require some sacrifice or work.

Resolution No. 7: I will enrich my cat’s environment.
“Investing in some simple interactive cat toys, scratching posts or cat trees can do wonders to enrich the life of your cat and keep it young in mind and body,” says Nelson. This is especially important for indoor-only cats, which experience very little novelty in their small world.

Rather than make hard-to-keep promises to amend your own bad habits, spend this year’s resolutions on your cat. “Not only will this be good for your kitty,” says Nelson, “but it will do your soul some good too.”

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.