Clever Cat Scratching & Climbing Posts

Even though every feline has its own personality and quirks, scratching and climbing are second nature for all cats. Because this is an immutable kitty truth,  cat owners should provide a special place for their furry friend to claw, clamber and leap.  If not, you risk a lifetime of shredded sofas and knocked-over knick-knacks (as well as an unhappy companion). Fortunately, there are all kinds of new and entertaining climbers available these days -- enough to meet your cat's demands, as well as your aesthetic sensibility.

Scratching that Itch
Just as you need a good morning stretch to get your day started, your cat also needs a good morning scratch. Scratching is good for your cat's health because it removes dead skin cells from claw sheaths. It also allows your cat to mark territory with scent, and to stretch muscles and ligaments. The best post for your cat, then, is tall enough to allow it to extend to full height; the post should also be sturdy enough for your cat to lean its full body weight on.

Scratching posts are generally covered with rough, shreddable material. Sisal rope and faux fur make the least mess, although many cats prefer scratching on carpeting due to its multiple loops. (Warning: These loops could eventually be shredded and end up in tiny bits on your floor!) When the post is worn out, both sisal rope and carpet posts can be resurfaced with simple carpet tacks or nails.

Kathy Kruger of Plymouth, Michigan found that scratching posts kept her cats from destroying her wooden furniture. "When I first brought Max and Sarah home, they were doing a real number on my kitchen chairs," she recalls. "My vet recommended a sisal post, and they were immediately attracted to that." To encourage a less enthusiastic pet to scratch a new post, reward it for scratching with a treat or some extra affection; you can also rub your cat's paws on the post to deposit its scent, or spray the post with catnip.

The Thrill of the Climb
Cat castles and cat trees are full-service climbing-scratching-lounging destinations. Some are free-standing with heavy bases to prevent tipping, while others extend floor to ceiling, usually relying on a spring-tension rod to keep them upright. They offer cats open areas for sleeping, posts for scratching and multiple levels for leaping. Free-standing models are best for one-cat homes, and for small to medium-size felines. Because they offer more stability, floor-to-ceiling models are more appropriate for multiple-cat dwellings, or large, heavy cats. If your kitty is larger than average, make sure the castle doors are wide enough for it to fit through comfortably.

"When my boyfriend moved in with all of his stuff, there was suddenly less room on my tall bookcases and on top of the refrigerator, and I was worried that my cat Cleo wouldn't get the exercise he needed," says Linda Bain of Garden City, New York. "So we found a nice wooden cat tree on the Internet. It sits unobtrusively in the corner, and Cleo loves it."

House of Style
Satisfying your cat's needs doesn't mean sacrificing your sense of style. The key to combining feline and human furniture is all about blending. "Look first and foremost for color. Make sure it doesn't stand out in contrast to everything else in the room," advises Karen Powell, a Connecticut-based interior designer and co-founder of Decor and You. "Then place the post or gym strategically in relationship to the other furniture, away from the focal point of the room, and outside of the traffic flow." Before you invest, visit a variety of pet supply stores and Web sites to get a broad picture of what's available. Your cat will thank you kindly.

Christmas Tree Needles and Your Cat Don't Mix

Tis the season. The lights are up, the tinsel is sparkling, the fridge is stocked and the mistletoe is hung. And the tree is also up, which means you've got a serious health risk ready to ruin your otherwise perfect Holiday for you and your cat. Cat are by nature curious, playful creatures, and some of them will become very mischievous if given the chance, and the little pine needles that fall off your Christmas tree over the course a few week provide a temptation they might not be able to resist. Natural Christmas trees you buys at you local church or vacant lot were most likely grown a few hundred miles away on a farm or in the woods, and are usually treated with herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals to preserve them through the Holidays. The chemicals concentrate in the boughs and the needles can become toxic. If ingested, this chemical cocktail can make your cat very sick. Symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to coughing and loss of appetite, which can make for an unpleasant Holiday break. Hopefully your cat will vomit up the needles and not repeat the mistake. But, in the event that the needles make it into your cat's digestive tract, the then the real problems begin. The needles can damage or even puncture the lining of you cat's stomach or intestine, and could result in a very large veterinary bill or even worse.

So, what are the best ways to minimize the risks of this kind of disaster? Here are three easy steps toward keeping your car safe:

  1. Know your cat. Understanding that your cat is prone to accidents and mischief is key.
  2. Sweep Up. If your cat is prone to get into trouble, frequent sweeping up of the needles is an easy way to lower risk.
  3. Deny Access. Keep furniture away from the tree so your cat can't get at the boughs and needles still on the tree, and you should spray the lower boughs of the tree with a pet repellent for further discouragement.

This might seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but consider the alternatives and you'll agree that it is the best gift you can give yourself and you cat this Holiday season. For information on keeping your pet dog from the Christmas tree needles, please visit here.

Having litter box issues? Here’s how to fix them.

As a cat owner, you’ve probably been there before. No matter how seasoned your cat may be at using her litter box, sometimes the inevitable just occurs -- accidents. “There are two main reasons that cats come down with litter box issues: physical or behavioral,” says Dr. Rebecca Jackson, staff veterinarian with Petplan pet insurance.

Before you can figure out which reason is causing your own cat to misbehave, consider taking him to the vet for a check-up. “Something may be irritating your kitty’s bladder, such as a urinary tract infection, or something could be causing her to drink more, such as diabetes or kidney disease,” said Dr. Jackson. “If diarrhea is present, it could indicate anything from inflammatory bowel disease to certain types of cancer. Early detection is key to successful treatment, so take your cat in for a checkup at the first sign of unusual bathroom habits.”

If the results of your vet visit come back all clear, you likely have a behavioral or situational problem on your hands. Common examples, according to Dr. Jackson, include:

  • Your cat simply may not like her litter box, or might have developed a negative association with it. Maybe she was startled there once, or maybe she had a condition that made urination painful. If this turns out to be the case, you might need to move the box, or change it altogether (start with trying a different litter, first) to remedy the situation.
  • The box may not be big enough for him (urine or feces ‘leaking’ outside of the box might be an indicator that he needs a bigger commode). The general rule is to have as many litter boxes as you do cats, plus one extra. Each of these boxes should be one and one-half times as large as your largest cat.
  • If the box is the right size, consider whether it’s clean enough. Twice-daily cleanings should be enough for even the cleanest of kitties.
  • Finally, conflicts with other cats, sudden changes in household routines or the addition of a new housemate (two- or four-legged!) might be throwing him off. Be sure to discuss any situational changes that have occurred with your vet to see if they might be the underlying cause of your cat’s litter box issues.

Behavioral litter box issues can be very frustrating and difficult for both you and your furry friend. Be sure to stay in communication with your vet about what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes a solution can be as simple as changing litter or adding another litter box. Other times medications and/or significant behavioral modification are required. Your vet is your best source for recommendations.

The Best Games for Cats

Your cat is playful, curious and a hunter, and he wants to interact with you to show off his natural skills. Playing games with your cat is a great way to entertain him, as well as give him some extra exercise.

Cats love to chase and hunt, so it’s natural from him to want to exhibit these behaviors for you. Many cats, if given the chance to go outdoors, will actively hunt for birds and other small animals. If they manage to succeed in their hunt, cats will want to show off their conquest by dropping a “gift” at your doorstep. Your cat’s hunting skills will also likely be exhibited if there is a bug or rodent in your home. He will swat, jump around and attempt to kill the intruder.

These hunting and chasing skills can be replicated in games that you play with your cat. Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM, Medical Director for Century Veterinary Group and Chief Veterinarian for ProSense Pet Products, says cats are attracted to movement, and most games for cats capitalize on these instincts, incorporating movement and a chase into the mechanics of the game.

Many cat toys that you’ll find in the store focus on the game of the hunt, and allow you to play along with your cat. If your cat lives indoors, he won’t be able to chase real animals, so it’s a good idea to provide a substitution to entice him to play. “Typical cat toys involve tantalizing the cat with a feather, or a little mouse or rabbit hanging on a string or dangling from a pole, or a ball that circles around a container, sometimes slightly hidden, that attracts the cat's attention and inspires the hunt,” Dr. Werber explains.  

Another great option for a game to play with your cat involves a laser. Your cat will be transfixed by the red laser light and try to catch it. “The cat sees the laser as an object to be chased and hunted down,” said Dr. Werber. “It can be quite comical to watch them trying to grab the laser as it flies by them on the ground, or against a wall.” This game can keep your cat occupied for a while and also provides exercise.

Dr. Werber recommends one other game that has proven popular with cats in the past. “Cats like to lie on their backs and grab and claw at your hand as it comes near their stomach,” he said. “This is fun for them, but not so much for you unless you wear a heavy glove to protect your hands and arm. An alternative version is to stick your hand under the blanket and slowly move toward them, or away, and watch them pounce.”

If your cat loves treats, you can purchase toys that you can hide treats in, too.

It is very important to keep your cat engaged in games that are both enjoyable and a good source of exercise. Your cat will make it known if he is bored, and walk away from you or the toy. Dr. Werber says that your cat may be bored with one activity but another one might continue to entertain him. Mixing up the games and toys will help keep your cat happy.

How to Show Your Love to an Independent Cat

There’s almost nothing my cat Penny loves more than lounging around on her own. Under my bed. Where it’s incredibly difficult for me to cuddle with her.

Don’t get the wrong idea -- every now and then she comes in for a scratch. But it’s usually only when she wants something, like dinner, or to let me know she’s feeling slightly lonely. Of course I’m happy to oblige when this happens, but the fact that Penny’s only interested in my affection every now-and-again got me wondering:

Does my cat know how much I love her?

Does the fact that she seems happy to be all by herself mean that I should leave her alone … or should I be attempting to pet her and cuddle with her anyway?

I decided to take my questions to Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. “Cats are shown love when they’re provided with the enrichment they need to enjoy being cats and to reduce their stress,” he said. “There’s more nerve connection in a cat’s brain than in a dog’s, so they tend to be more prone to psychiatric problems akin to what their humans experience.”

So what does that mean, exactly? According to Dr. Chavez, the best way that I can prove to Penny how much I love her is to provide a calm, routine and stress-free, enriching environment for her … to include being proactive with my affection from time to time. “Cats need play with their pet parents,” says Dr. Chavez, “not just toys lying around or left for them to play with between each other. They need actual interaction with their human caretakers.”

So in fact, even though we consider cats to be ‘independent,’ and most really are to a certain extent, many actually are starved for play. “Food can be used to encourage play and enrichment, like having food puzzles and games distributed around the house,” Dr. Chavez suggests. “And of course water must be available at all times. Cats love clean, flowing water, so a tall fountain that circulates water and is readily changed and cleaned is always a plus.”

In terms of providing a stress-free environment, it’s also important to keep a clean litter box at all times. “Each cat should also feel they have access to their own box, so that territories aren’t fought after,” said Dr. Chavez. “They should be large and easily accessible in high traffic areas, not hidden away in a bathroom or an obscure corner of the house. And keep the box filled several inches deep, with finer litter material that you scoop daily.”

So to sum up, a happy cat is one who has plenty of water and food, a clean litter box and lots of interactive toys. Seems simple enough. What it all boils down to is at the end of the day, Penny and I probably have different ideas on what constitutes affection. (I just want to cuddle. She just wants to be safe.) If that’s what she needs to feel loved, I’m all too happy to oblige.

But don’t think for one second I won’t be sneaking in a cuddle from time-time, as well.