Month: August 2008

The Grass is Always Greener

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Lucian Eating Grass
Lucian Eating Grass

We haven’t had indoor plants in years. Although cats are true carnivores, they also have this need to munch on grass or other leafy greens. My mom’s palm plant had ragged ends from little nibbles from Kiggy. My friend, Jill, has given up on having a bamboo plant in the house as her cat, Frida, chews it down to the nub every chance she gets.

If you have indoor plants, the first thing you need to do is to take an inventory of all your cat accessible plants and make sure they are not poisonous to cats. Anything that makes the list has to go, at least outside. If you are fine with kitty chewing on the safe plants, you can leave them. A better plan is to grow some grass for your cats. They and your plants will thank you.

You can buy cat grass at the pet store or grow your own. Many pet stores sell the seeds which grow quickly. However, I have found that using wheat berries works just as well for a fraction of the cost. (Note, you can also use oat berries.) I can even get organic wheat berries at the local health food store. Wheat berries can be used to grow wheat grass, a staple of health food junkies everywhere.

Growing Wheat Grass

Growing wheat grass for your cats is the epitome of simple. Simply fill a pot with potting soil. Spread the wheat berries on top of the soil and cover with another shallow layer of soil. Water the soil and place in a sunny location. Within days you will see little blades of grass poking through searching for the light. We like to plant the grass in a long rectangular planter so the three cats can all graze at the same time. The weight of the planter also makes it more stable. Lighter pots have a tendency to be knocked over when the cats are mowing down on their greens.

Why Do Cats Eat Grass or Other Greens?

It is believed that indoor cats eat grass to get a little nutrients that might be missing in their diet. Cats are carnivores who eat their prey live. Often, their prey are birds, rats, mice, etc. These little animals often have some plant material in their stomachs which the cats ingest as well. Cats will also seek grass out when their stomachs are upset, so don’t be surprised to find a little grass regurgitated from time to time. That’s one of the reasons why we plant it outside in our enclosed atrium. The grass has plenty of light and clean up is easier.

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Best Fort Ever

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Lucian in a bag
Lucian in a bag

There is something about a paper bag or cardboard box that cats cannot seem to resist. As soon as I set one down on the floor, all three of my cats will come over to investigate. It doesn’t seem to matter how small the box or bag is in comparison to their bodies. After an initial investigation, one or more will try to find a way inside.

Michi in a box
Michi in a box

So, before you go spend oodles of cash on toys for your cat, try opening up a paper bag or a cardboard box. Some things to keep in mind to keep kitty safe:

  1. Use paper bags, not plastic. Kitty may chew on the bag or may suffocate in a plastic bag.
  2. Cut off the handles of a paper bag so that kitty doesn’t get it wrapped around his neck. He can likely break a paper handle, but a rope handle may be more dangerous. See Bloomingdale bags.
  3. Only use paper bags or cardboard boxes that have stored kitty safe items. Use common sense, don’t give kitty an empty box that stored pesticides.

Won’t You Take Me to Shanty Town?

We like to tape multiple boxes together to make a cardboard condo or shanty town. We cut out windows or little paw sized holes for one kitty to bat another kitty on the head. Have fun and embarrass your spouse when company comes over and see how you live like hobos. When the fort has lost its allure or it is worn down, you can recycle and begin again the next time you go to Costco.

Saving Your Furniture

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If you live with a cat, one of the most important things you will need besides a litter box and food bowls, is a good scratching post. So, what makes a good scratching post? Is it your couch, your chair, your drapes, maybe your prized collection of LPs? I’ve had them all used over the years before I truly understood the need that cats have to scratch.

Cat Claw
Cat Claw

Cats have retractable claws that act like finger tips. Scratching has two purposes for cats. They need to scratch to remove the outer sheath as their claws grow. Outside, they would find a nice tree or other rough surface to scratch. Cats also use scratching to mark their territory. They have scent glands on their paws and scratching lets other cats know that they were there. It’s kind of like cat tagging.

Without the proper outlet, cats will find whatever is handy to scratch. Usually it’s the arms of your couch or chair.

What Makes A Good Post?

Texture Matters

I’ve noticed that cats seem to love rough, nubby fabric textures. The most coveted furniture to scratch in my house has always been the one with the nubby texture. This is why most scratching posts are made of carpet, sisal rope or cardboard. We now have a microfiber couch that they mostly leave alone.

Scratching Post
Scratching Post

Many scratching posts are made of carpet. However, this may confuse your cat. He may not understand why it’s okay to scratch the carpet on his post but not outside your bedroom door when you so ungraciously closed him outside when he woke you up again at 4 am. We currently have two homemade posts that are wrapped in sisal rope. One of the posts has survived 15 years of daily use. We had to replace part of the rope at year 12 when they finally wore it out in one spot. We also have a few horizontal corrugated cardboard box type scratchers so they can scratch on the floor and roll around in the dried catnip.

Such Great Heights

Many commercial cat scratching posts are great for kittens, but are really too short for a full grown cat – especially a large tom like Wayne. He stretches 34 inches from toes to nose. Many large cat trees incorporate scratching posts in longer lengths. The Ultimate Scratching Post shown in the photo to the left is a nice looking post covered in sisal fabric. It’s 34 inches in length, so it is long enough for a good stretch.

Liv below her scratching post
Liv below her scratching post

Re-training

If your cat is already in the bad habit of using your furniture as a post, all hope is not lost. With some patience and tricks you can re-direct him to his proper outlet. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The scratching post needs to be located where it is convenient for your cat to use it. Keep it near where he has been scratching now. It helps to get a decent looking post that fits with your decor. We have one at the top of the stairs that overlooks the courtyard (see photo of Liv on the stairs) and the other is by the sofa.
  2. If he likes catnip, try sprinkling some on the post to encourage scratching.
  3. Try scratching the post yourself to give him a visual clue what the post is for.
  4. If he scratches the furniture, carry him over to the post to scratch. Give him praise and treats if he complies.
  5. Cover the area of the furniture where he scratches with double sided tape. They hate the feel of it. Once he’s stopped scratching your furniture in preference of his cool new post, you can take the tape off.

So, what about declawing?

If all of this sounds like too much trouble and you are considering declawing, please don’t. De-clawing is cruel. It would be like cutting the tips off your fingers. Declawed cats are defenseless if they ever get outside. Declawed cats can also be more aggressive without the use of their claws. The Humane Society has a great article on the subject and another one on why declawing is a bad idea. It’s easy with practice. The younger the cat is when you start the easier it will be. My three cats associate a drawer with treats. I keep the cat claw trimmer there, too. When I open the drawer the three usually come running and wait their turn for a trim and a treat.

Update: September 2014

Soft Paws on Delilah
Kitten Delilah’s Soft Paws

If you have Netflix streaming, there is an excellent documentary called “The Paw Project” which shares one veterinarian’s quest to educate the public and to help stop the cruel practice of declawing. I was against it before, but when I saw the pain and disfigurement that happens when a cat is declawed, I was sickened. The behavior problems that arise from declawing are far worse than a few scratches on your furniture. Biting and litter box issues are very common with declawed cats as they are in constant pain. More cats are sent to shelters for these issues than scratching.

Please try to trim your cat’s claws or use Soft Paws, and use training methods to help correct unwanted behavior. If your landlord will only allow a cat who has been declawed, find another home if you can or share with him or her the realities of declawing. Here’s a great FAQ on declawing.

With ample scratching posts and training, your cat can scratch as needed and save your furniture from damage. If this is too much, please reconsider sharing a home with a cat. You are sharing the home and need to adjust your behavior, too. You wouldn’t pull a puppy’s teeth out just because he was chewing.

Adopting A Cat, Part 3

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Pure Breed or Mixed Breed?

I have to confess, I am totally biased on this topic. Too many cats and kittens are put to death each year because there are not enough good homes. All of my cats have been mixed breed cats who were adopted from shelters or rescue organizations. They have all been wonderful, beautiful and intelligent animals that have made loving companions. The sole comfort I had when Kiggy and Michi passed away in their late teens was that I had given them a good home for as long as they lived.

In the end, it’s a personal decision. If you do have your heart set on a particular breed, check shelters and breed rescues. You may be able to get the best of both worlds and rescue a pure bred cat who needs a loving home.

Places to Adopt

Local Shelter

Girl adopting a kitten
Girl adopting a kitten

Most cities have an animal shelter where you can adopt cats, dogs, even rabbits. Some of these shelters are even lucky enough to be “no kill”. This may be a bit of a misnomer. It is my understanding that these shelters will not euthanize a healthy, adoptable animal, but will take care of them both medically and emotionally until they find a good home. I prefer the ones that encourage you to visit with the animal before adoption and that will take the animal back if it is not a good fit. Their main concern is finding a good home for the animals in their care.

The benefit of adopting from a shelter includes:

  • saving an animal from being euthanized.
  • the cat or kitten will be spayed or neutered, saving you the trouble and expense.
  • the cat or kitten will have been examined and cared for by a veterinarian. You will know of any ongoing health issues before adoption.
  • the cat will be tested for disease.
  • the cat will be vaccinated (kittens will need to continue with their booster shots).

Criteria for Adoption

Given up due to allergies
Given up due to allergies

Most well run shelters will have criteria you need to meet before they will let you adopt one of their animals. At first this may seem odd because they have so many animals in their charge. Shouldn’t they be happy that someone is willing to take one of them?

They are happy that you are there to adopt, but they care deeply about the animals in their charge and want to make sure they don’t end up back in the shelter or worse. Adopting an animal is a huge responsibility and they want to make sure prospective pet owners know what they are getting themselves into.

Things They Often Ask

  1. Do you rent or own? If you rent, do you have your landlord’s written permission?
    People often give animals up because they don’t have permission to have them in a rental or they move and can’t take them. 
  2. Do you have children? If so, how many and what ages.
    Small children do better with adult cats instead of kittens.
  3. Do you or anyone in your household have allergies or asthma?
    Cats are often given up due to allergies in the household. If you have never lived with a cat before you should spend some time with one before adopting to see if you are allergic. You may still be able to adopt with some modifications to the household and treatment with antihistamines. Check with your doctor.
  4. Do you have any other pets? If so, what types, ages, etc.
    They want to know if you have dogs or other cats who may not get along or be a threat to a cat. 
  5. Have you had other pets? What happened to them?
    They want to know if you gave up animals before or lost animals to mishap. 
  6. Do you plan to keep the cat indoors or outdoors?
    Most shelters will insist you keep your cat indoors. They are much safer indoors. 
  7. Do you have a veterinarian? If so, what is the name and address.
    If you already have animals, make sure to have your vet info handy. This is a big plus and shows that you take responsibility for your cat’s health. If this is your first cat, ask friends for vet recommendations. If you already have a cat or cats, you will want to have the cat examined by your vet before bringing him/her into your home.
  8. Do you plan to de-claw?
     They will not adopt to you if you want to de-claw. De-clawing is cruel and unnecessary with proper scratching posts. If you insist on a de-clawed cat, adopt an adult that is already de-clawed.
  9. What will happen to the animal if you move?
    You must show commitment to the cat by noting that he/she will always go with you. When I rented, I always made sure I could have my cats anyplace I moved.  

Pet Store Adoption Centers

Adopt Me?
Adopt Me?

Some of the bigger pet store chains like Petco and Petsmart now host adoption centers. This is in sharp contrast to pet stores who sell animals, often from back-yard breeders or puppy or kitten mills. Please avoid the latter. If you insist on a pure bred cat, go with a reputable breeder not one who sells their animals to a pet store.

These adoption centers are usually run by small rescue groups who foster the cats and kittens until they can find a good home. The rescue groups are often more particular about whom they will adopt to. They will ask the same questions above and may even want to visit your home before the adoption is complete.

Another good place to check is Petfinder.org. It is national database of adoptable animals in shelters and rescue groups. Through their site you can search for an animal by species, breed, age, size, gender and location. 

Classified Ads

When people can no longer take care of their cats, they often advertise in the local paper, Craigslist, or the like. This is often the easiest way to adopt a cat without meeting the adoption criteria. However, be aware that the adoption criteria for shelters and adoption centers is a good basis to decide if you are ready to adopt. If you do not meet the criteria, maybe now is not the time. Make sure you are ready to provide a forever home to a cat or kitten. It’s well worth any perceived inconvenience to share your life with one of these elegant, loving animals.

Adopting A Cat, Part 2

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Male or Female?

Michi
Michi

Before I ever shared my life with a cat, I was under the misconception that female cats were better. I’m not sure why I thought that other than opinions from friends. My first two cats, Kiggy and Michi, were female and they were great. When we decided (well, I begged and hubby relented) to adopt our third, the shelter recommended adopting a male because they said that female cats would have a harder time accepting another female.

We looked around at the shelter at all the male kittens. We decided on a kitten due to the fact that we already had two and the acceptance of a kitten should be easier. Lucian was a sweet kitten, but we had forgotten how wild they can be. He terrorized our resident queens and made all us miserable. On the recommendation from the shelter, we adopted a fourth. This time we opted for another female, Lucian’s littermate whom we named Liv Tiger. She helped divert his wild energy so that the older cats could stop hiding under the couch and hissing every time he came near.

Liv and Lucian having a cuddle
Liv and Lucian having a cuddle.

After Kiggy and Michi died a year apart from each other, the house seemed empty with only two. We jointly decided to once again add a third. This time we opted for a male because we enjoyed Lucian’s company so much. He is more affectionate than the girls, which just may be his personality. We adopted Wayne and he bonded quickly with Lucian.

Some observations

I’ve lived with 5 cats over the past 19 years. Three female and two male. They have all been wonderful cats with individual personalities. All were spayed or neutered, so behavior problems due to hormonal urges have not been an issue.

  • My male cats have been more destructive as kittens.
    Lucian used to tear and bite rolls of toilet paper or paper towels. Wayne chewed anything he could get his mouth on. We had to put cord protectors to protect both our electronics and Wayne. The girls never got into too much trouble.
  • My male cats are more affectionate than the females.
    Both Wayne and Lucian are snugglers. They follow us from room to room and want to be carried or held. The girls are loving but a little more aloof.
  • My male cats are physically larger.
    Wayne is 18 pounds and Lucian is 15. Liv is only 10 pounds. Michi was only 8 pounds and Kiggy was 10 pounds.
  • Male cats will spray to mark their territory if not neutered. They will also be more territorial and fight other males for dominance.
    My cats were all neutered before reaching sexual maturity. They have never sprayed. 
  • Aggressiveness
    I haven’t noticed any difference in aggressiveness with altered male or female cats. Lucian is somewhat aggressive. When he’s in a bad mood he’ll take it out on his sister. Liv was aggressive with Kiggy and Michi but not with the boys. Wayne is passive. Although he is the largest cat in the household, he is also the most meek. He’ll back down in any confrontation. He still tries to bulk up by bristling his fur on his back and tail to try to look bigger. He’s 34 inches in length and 18 pounds. I’m not sure he needs the illusion of extra size.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s the individual personality of the cat that makes a difference. As long as the cat has been spayed or neutered, gender will not play that big of a role.