Month: January 2011

Feline behavior modification tips

Guest post by Lorie A. Huston, DVM

The first step in correcting feline behavior problems is to recognize why your cat is exhibiting the behavior and to recognize normal cat behaviors. Feline behavior modification can be used to correct what we, as cat owners, see as behavior problems. In many cases, we are actually directing the cat toward another outlet for the behavior. In other cases, we will be trying to reduce the amount of stress experienced by the cat and reduce “abnormal” or undesirable behaviors that occur as a result of that stress.

Make Your Cat Feel Safe with Perches and Hiding Places to Modify Feline Behavior

Cats like to rest on elevated perches where they feel safe from predation and can survey the area surrounding them. Providing adequate numbers of perches for all cats in a household is extremely important. Cat condos can be used and even the back rests of furniture are often claimed by cats as perches. One of my cats likes the top of the refrigerator.

Cats also need hiding places where they feel secure. These should be places where the cat can retreat if he feels threatened or frightened or even if he just wants to be alone for a while. Cat beds, cardboard boxes, and medium to large carriers or crates (left open so the cat can enter and exit freely) are all suitable hiding places. Cats will also frequently hide under beds and furniture as well. In multi-cat households, there should be adequate numbers of hiding places available for all cats. Cats may prefer not to share their hiding spots.

Providing Scratching Areas and Entertainment for Your Cat is Part of a Feline Behavior Modification Program

Scratching posts should be provided to allow cats to sharpen claws and stretch muscles. These are normal cat behaviors and if you do not provide a place for your cat to do so, he will choose his own spot. Some cats prefer upright scratching posts while others prefer flat surfaces. Cat owners may need to experiment to find out which their cat prefers.

Toys are also helpful. These can be used to simulate a cat’s normal prey behavior. Experimentation may be necessary to determine which type of toy an individual cat prefers. Some cats prefer toys with feathers, some prefer toys which can be pulled along the ground and other prefer things like laser pointers which can simulate the movement of an insect. Toys also provide a great way for cat owners to interact with their cats and can provide much-needed exercise. (Obesity is also a major problem in cats, but that’s a different subject.)

Provide Adequate Resources for All Cats to Decrease Competition and Alter Behavior

In multi-cat households, several food and water stations may need to be provided so there is no competition for these resources between cats. As an example, I have one cat which will lie near the food dish and growl at the other cats when they come around to eat. By providing additional food and water dishes in other areas of the house, the other cats can get their food and water without having to get to the dish being guarded. Food and water dishes should also be located away from litter boxes.

Proper Litter Box Management is Essential to Correcting Behavior Problems

Litter boxes and the proper management of them is also extremely important.

  • In a multi-cat household, there need to be adequate numbers of boxes provided. The rule of thumb is to provide one box for each cat plus one. (For two cats, three litter boxes. For three cats, four litter boxes. And so on).
  • Litter boxes should be big enough to allow the cat to occupy the box comfortably and turn around in the box. Most cats prefer larger litter boxes to smaller ones. For young kittens and older cats that have mobility issues, a litter box with shorter sides may be necessary.
  • Litter boxes should be located in low-traffic areas of the house which the cat or cats have easy access to and it is important that cats not be interrupted or frightened when using the box. A common mistake is putting the litter box near a washing machine that may be noisy enough to scare the cat away from the box.
  • Keeping litter boxes clean is essential. Some cats will not use a litter box that is soiled.
  • Hoods on litter boxes can also be problematic. Hoods can trap odors in the box and make the box unpleasant for a cat.
  • Type of cat litter is also important for some cats. Cats may show a preference for one type of litter over another. In general, scoopable litters tend to be preferred over non-scoopable and are convenient for cat owners when it comes to cleaning as well. Scented litters should be avoided. Most cats do not find strong scents attractive. In cases where inappropriate urination or defecation is occurring (i.e. outside of the litter box), providing a number of different litters with different textures and watching to see which the cat prefers can help the cat owner choose the best litter for their individual cat.

Changes in Environment or Routine May Affect Feline Behavior

Changes which cause stress for cats include:

  • new family members (such as a new child or a new roommate),
  • new pets in the household (other cats, dogs, other types of pets),
  • the loss of an existing pet or other household member,
  • rearrangement of furniture,
  • construction in or around the house, and
  • changes in an owner’s schedule (for instance, being away from home more often or less often than previously or working a different shift than previously).

Even simple things like having company for dinner can be stressful for some cats. If you know there are going to be stressors taking place in your cat’s life, it is a good idea to provide an area where the cat can retreat by himself. This area should have food, water and litter boxes available. If noise is anticipated, leaving a television or radio playing in the background can be helpful. You should also attempt to spend extra quality time with the cat playing, petting or cuddling with him.

What Your Indoor Cat Sees Outside Can Cause Behavior Problems

While some indoor cats appear to enjoy watching birds, squirrels and other animals outside, some cats object to seeing these animals near their home. This is especially true if they are seeing stray cats near the house. In this case, keeping window blinds and doors closed can help block the view of these animals. Steps can also be taken to discourage stray and wild animals from approaching the house. Placing bird feeders away from the house, instead of near windows, can help. Motion sensors can be placed to scare off intruders also.

Use Feliway to Decrease Feline Stress and Alter Cat Behavior

Feliway is a pheromone product which can be used in the household to reduce stress and provide a calming effect on cats also. I use it in my house and notice a big difference in my cats’ behaviors with it. I would consider using it in any household which houses more than one cat, any household with cats that are experiencing behaviors characteristic of stress (nervousness, fear, irritability, fighting) or in any situation where stress is likely to be induced (moving to a new house, new family member, construction/renovation, etc.)

Lorie Huston is a veterinarian in Rhode Island, where she cares for the dogs and cats in the local community.  She is also a successful freelance writer. At home, Lorie is the proud pet parent of six cats: Lilly, Midge, Rusty, Dillon, Rhette and Merlin (shown with Lorie). All six cats were rescued and adopted by Lorie after being injured, sick and/or abandoned.

Photo by Shari Weinsheimer, Public Domain Pictures

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Why do cats do that?

About the author

Why Do cats Do That?

I’m always tempted to answer this question with “because they can” – after all, they’re cats, and most cats think, or rather know, that they rule the world.  However, there are “real” answers to some of these questions, and here’s a sampling.

Why do cats knead with their paws?

We’ve all seen them do it.  It’s also known as “making biscuits.”  The most common explanation is that it reminds them of when they were kittens and pawed at their mother’s teats to stimulate milk secretion.  It’s why cats seem to be so content, and almost go into a trance, when they knead – kneading takes them back to one of their earliest happy memories.  Most cats purr while they knead, and some will even drool.

Why do cats like to weave through and rub up against their human’s legs?

Most people think they do this to show affection, although perhaps, if that’s what it is, cats should find a better way to show that they care than by trying to trip the human who fills their food bowl.  What they’re actually doing is marking you with their scent.  Cats have scent glands on the side of their face and on the tip of their tail.  These glands produce pheromones, and by rubbing up against your legs multiple times, they’re mingling their scent with yours.  You now belong to them, as it should be.

Why do cats inevitably find the one person in a room who doesn’t like cats?

Unless your cat is the most gregarious and social cat on the planet, he’ll be a little uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers who are all cooing or staring at him, so he’ll zero in on the one person who is completely ignoring his presence, perceiving that person as less intimidating.

What makes a cat purr?

Scientists are not sure about the exact mechanism behind purring, but the most common explanation is that the cat’s brain sends a signal to the laryngeal muscles to vibrate.  At the same time, the cat is inhaling and exhaling, and the stream of air is causing the vocal chords to vibrate.  Even though most people assume that cats purr when they’re happy and content, purring can also be a sign of stress, such as during a visit to the veterinarian, or after an injury.  The purr is thought to comfort the cat in these situations.

Why do cats race around the house like crazy without warning?

Even though they live in our homes and eat from a bowl, cats are natural hunters, and they’re designed for the speed of the hunt, especially when they’re young.  In an environment where there’s nothing much to hunt, chasing imaginary prey through the house may be a way for them to release pent up energy.

What do your cats do that you’ve always wondered about?

About the author

Minimizing Stress for Cats Can Decrease Illness

 

A study conducted at the Ohio State State University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that stress is not just detrimental to human health, it affects our cats’ health, too.

The 3-year-study looked at 32 cats.  Twelve of the cats were healthy, and twenty had FIC (feline interstitial cystitis), an often painful, inflammatory condition of the bladder and urinary tract.  There are multiple, sometimes unidentified causes for this condition, but stress is believed to be a component.

During the first part of the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats, including their cages, litter boxes, food, music, toys, time spent with the other cats and time spent with human caretakers.  Researchers were careful to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats.  Says Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate participating in the study:  “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats.”

When the cats were subjected to moderate stressors – and to a cat, anything from a loud noise, a dirty litter box, or unwanted attention can constitute stress – the cats would vomit, urinate or defecate outside the litter box, and eat less, according to OSU researchers.

What the study found was that during healthy and stress-free times, both healthy and affected cats got sick once a week on average.  During the weeks when their routines were changed,  the healthy cats got sick 1.9 times a week and the others twice a week.  Levels returned to normal when the stress had passed.

So what’s the take home for cat owners?  Not surprisingly, just like in people, stress causes illness in cats.  By reducing common stressors, and enriching cats’ environment, illness can be decreased.

“This study shows that an enriched environment – one that includes hiding areas, toys, bedding and other physical features, plus an everyday routine including a consistent caregiver, feeding and play times – reduces or altogether prevents some common signs of feline sickness such as decreased appetite, vomiting or eliminating outside of their litter boxes, ” said feline veterinarian Jane Brunt, a member of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson.

I thought it was particularly interesting that the researchers noted that their own stress levels also affected the cats.  I had previously written about this topic, so this aspect came as no surprise to me.  It’s also something I keep in mind when I make decisions about my home that might affect my own cats.  For several years now, I’ve been wanting to do some minor remodeling, but somehow, there always seems to be a reason to not go ahead with it.  First, Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease, and the noise and disruption associated with even minor projects would have been way too stressful for her.  You’d think that with Allegra, who’s a young, healthy cat, I could finally get some of these projects done.  But Allegra hates being closed up in a room and is afraid of loud noises.  My remodeling projects will have to wait – and that’s okay.  I’d rather keep my cats happy and as stress-free as I can and live with some outdated floors and kitchen cabinets.

Quotes from “Ohio State studies symptoms of cat stress, disease” by Sue Manning, The Associated Press

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About the author

National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day

When I first saw that tomorrow is National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day, I chuckled, and thought it was a joke.  But sure enough, the folks at PetCentric have designated January 22 as a “holiday of feline understanding.”

And the premise is actually a wonderful idea.  According to PetCentric, “the proper way to participate in National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day is to be aware of your cat on a more conscious level, and notice when your cat is trying to ask you something. Your job is to stop what you’re doing and try to figure out what your cat is asking, and do your best to answer the question.”  You can read the rest of PetCentric’s description of the holiday here.

How many times are we mystified by something our feline companions do?  How many times do we wish that they could speak human, or we could be better at understanding feline?   Cats’ behavior may not make sense to us, but it always makes purrfect sense to them.  The more we try to understand why they do the things they do,  the better our relationship will be for both cat and human.  

And part of understanding our cats is to take the time to listen to them.  Cats express themselves in a variety of ways, through body language, vocalization (you’ll be familiar with this aspect especially if you are owned by a tortoiseshell cat!), and habits.  In order to truly understand them, we have to try and think like a cat. 

PetCentric offers a number of examples of cat’s questions, from the cat’s point of view, along with the human’s answer and the cat’s rebuttal (you knew there’d be a rebuttal, didn’t you?), such as:

“Cat’s Question: Why do you bring strangers into our home? Person’s Answer: They’re my friends. And they love cats. There’s no need to hide when they come over. Cat’s Rebuttal: Oh yeah? I didn’t invite them over! They scare me. They always want to pick me up. If they’d just leave me alone and let me sneak up and investigate them, I could decide if they are my friends too, and then I might be ok with them petting me.”

For more cat Q&A, click here.

What are some of the questions your cats will be asking you, and what will your answers be?

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About the author

Meet Sarah Donner, folk pop star and reluctant cat lady

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoZr25AuByY

A while back, I came across this adorable video on YouTube:  a kitten, attentively listening to a young woman singing and playing the ukulele.  Eventually, the kitten succumbed to the charming music and drifted off to sleep.Continue Reading

About the author

Making Medical Decisions for Your Cat

During these past couple of weeks, two friends had to make difficult decisions about medical care for their cats, and it got me thinking about what a challenging task this is for so many of us.

Advances in veterinary medicine make it possible to treat medical conditions in cats that would have been a death sentence a decade ago.  From chemotherapy to kidney transplants, cats can now receive almost the same level of medical care as humans.  But just because these treatments are available doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for each cat.

To treat or not to treat: two stories

Pandora is an 18-year-old calico in chronic renal failure.  It’s unclear which stage her disease is currently in, because my friend has chosen not to pursue medical treatment beyond the basics:  Pandora is on medication to control her high blood pressure, and she gets a thorough check up every six months to monitor her lab values.  Pandora goes through phases were she doesn’t want to eat and becomes withdrawn, but so far, she has always bounced back after a few days.  My friend has chosen to keep Pandora comfortable at home, and when that’s no longer possible, she’ll be ready (or as ready as any of us will ever be) to let her go.

The decision for Bob, a 14-year-old orange tabby belonging to my friend Robin over at Covered in Cat Hair, was more difficult.  He’s FIV positive,  and a recent ultrasound showed a large mass that was wrapped around his liver.  Without a biopsy, there was no telling what was going on.  Surgery is always a risk, but especially for a senior FIV positive cat.  The surgeon told my friend that, in a worst case scenario, if it was cancer and it had spread, she needed to be prepared to authorize euthanasia while Bob was still on the table.  On the other hand, there was also a chance that the mass could be removed, and Bob could have many more months, if not years, of good quality of life.  My friend agonized over this decision, and eventually decided to have the surgery done.  The mass was removed, and as of this writing, Bob has recovered from his surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Not every cat owner would have made these decisions for their cats.  In Pandora’s case, some would choose more aggressive treatment and more frequent visits to the vet, and possibly hospitalization for IV fluids.  In Bob’s case, some would have elected to forgo surgery and just let him live out however much time he may have left without intervention.  These situations are never black and white, and there is no one right decision.  The only wrong decision in these cases would be indecision when it translates into pain and suffering for the cat.

So what factors should a cat owner take into account when faced with making medical decisions?

Get the facts first

The most important thing is to get all the facts first.  Be sure you understand the medical condition your cat is dealing with.  It can be difficult to know what questions to ask your veterinarian when faced with a frightening diagnosis, so don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions once you’ve had a chance to process the initial information.  Make sure you understand all the treatment options, along with cost, side effects, and prognosis for each option.  Get a second opinion and/or go see a specialist if you’re not comfortable with what your veterinarian tells you.

By all means, research your cat’s condition on the internet, but use common sense and look for sites that present facts and not just anecdotes and opinions.  Dr. Nancy Kay, the author of Speaking for Spot:  Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Healthy, Happy, Longer Life has written a series of fantastic articles about how to find accurate pet health information on the internet.

A personal decision

Once you understand the medical facts, the decision becomes more personal.  Factors that come into play are your cat’s temperament, your comfort level with providing any follow up care that may be required at home, and your finances.

In my years of managing a veterinary practice, a question many clients often asked was “what would you do if it was your cat?”  I wish I could have answered it, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because, first of all, I’m not a veterinarian.  I also couldn’t have answered it because what I would do for my cat could be completely wrong for the client’s cat.

But after having faced having to make difficult decisions for two of my cats in recent years, I now have an answer I would give these clients.  For me, it comes down to this:  Listen to your heart.  After weighing all the factors, try to set aside your fear and worry for your cat long enough to connect with your center.  Some call it gut instinct, or intuition.  And then make the best possible decision for your cat.  Because when it comes down to it, the one thing you know better than all the veterinarians in the world combined is your cat.

Photo of Bob by Robin A.F. Olson, used with permission.  Bob passed away peacefully, surrounded by those he loved, in September of 2011.

About the author

An Interview with Blaize Clement, Author of Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons

Blaize Clement is the author of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, Duplicity Dogged the DachshundCat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs.  The latest book in the series, Cat Sitter Among the Pigeons, was released on January 4, 2011.  Blaize has been a stay at home mom, dressmaker, caterer, family therapist, and writer, some of them all at the same time. She has never been a pet sitter, but has shared her home with dogs, cats, birds, fish, and neurotic gerbils. No snakes. She has a thing about snakes. She has written several parenting books, numerous essays and short stories and a play.  Blaize lives in Sarasota, Florida.

I’m delighted to welcome Blaize to The Conscious Cat today.

How did you first come up with the idea for the Dixie Hemingway series?

Actually, I never thought, “I believe I’ll write a mystery series,” it just sort of happened. I lead a workshop every week in which we grab a word and write like crazy for five minutes without any plan. I don’t remember what the word was, but in one of those writing bursts I ended up with scene in which a man drowned in a cat’s water bowl. That became the start of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, which was the first book in the series.

How much of yourself is in Dixie’s character?

Friends tell me that Dixie’s smart-alecky mouth is exactly like mine, but I’m sure they exaggerate. I do agree that she and I share a deep feeling about the importance of family and loyalty. We also share an appreciation for the differences between people’s races, religions, and sexual orientations. We both pretty much think the world would be a better place if people just minded their own business and respected one another.

I was first drawn to your books by the adorable covers.  Anything with a cat on it will always get my attention!  How important are covers to the success of cozy mysteries like yours?

I think cover art is important to the sales of any book. I’ve liked all the Dixie covers, but my favorite was the very first one on the hardback edition. That book shot up to the best-seller list as soon as it came out, and I think the cover had a lot to do with it.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

I usually start writing around ten in the morning, break for a quick lunch, and write until around four or five. During that time, of course, I may leave the computer to stir the soup or throw a load of laundry in the dryer, but mostly I’m writing. After I’m in bed, I think of ideas to insert into what I wrote during the day. I used to scribble those ideas on a post-it and stick it to my bedside table, but now I send it to myself on my laptop which is never away from my side. But I don’t do much actual writing at night because my brain is too tired. In the morning, I write in a journal before I get up. If I’m having plot problems, I may work then out in the journal and then take those ideas with me when I start on the manuscript again.

What do you love most about being a writer?

The writing. If I go a day without writing, I get antsy and weird. I’m sort of hard-wired to write. Part of my love of writing is a love of words. I can get gob-smacked over a new word that I’d never heard before, just awe-struck like other people get at seeing a rock star. I love sentences, too. Sometimes I read a book over and over just because I’m in love with the way the sentences march along in a wonderful rhythm.

What do you like least about being a writer?

The necessity of self-promotion. I don’t do that well, and half the time I forget that I’m supposed to be doing it at all. Some people are great at it, and I envy their talent. They blog and twitter and facebook and do virtual tours and send out cards and trailers, and I’m just amazed that they have the energy and know-how to do all that.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by writers like the poet David Whyte who are able to send word-arrows straight to the heart. I’m also inspired by philosophers and thinkers who rise above the petty, silly things we waste time with and remind us of what’s really important in life, like love and friendship and home. Some of those are contemporary and some have been around for centuries. When I’m writing, I always read some Greek classic, one of the tragedies or comedies, before I go to sleep at night. I want the largeness of those ideas to seep into my mind. I usually manage to slip a line from one of those classics into each Dixie story. It’s a little way of acknowledging those great minds and thanking them.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

A young couple drove several hundred miles to bring me a framed plaque titled “The Official Dixie Hemingway Fan Club.” The plaque had photos of all their pets with their names and titles of President, VP, Secretary, etc, of the club. I was so touched that they’d gone to so much time and trouble to do that! The plaque hangs in my office and gives me a lift every time I look at it.

Tell us a little bit about your own pets.

My last pet was a beautiful Abyssinian who warmed my feet at night. At the moment, I have a grand-dog named Zoey. Zoey is two years old, and quite a character.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a lovely new book by Bonnie Pemberton, a fellow member of Cat Writers of America. It’s titled The Cat Master, and is about the gulf between the Ferals and the Indoors. I’m not very far into it, but it promises to be a cat-hair raising adventure.

Are you working on another book?

I just finished the seventh book in the Dixie Hemingway series. I don’t know what the title will be, but it’s about the killing competition in the world of high fashion.

Thank you so much for your time, Blaize and much success with Cat Sitter Among the Pigeons!

You’re welcome, Ingrid! Thanks for inviting me.

You can learn more about Blaize and her book on her website and her blog Kitty Litter.

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My review of Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons

About the author

Book Review: Cat Sitter Among the Pidgeons by Blaize Clement

I first discovered Blaize Clement’s Dixie Hemingway series three years ago when the cover of the first book in the series, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, caught my eye.  Dixie Hemingway is a pet sitter who lives on one of the Florida keys – just based on those two pieces of information, I had a feeling I was going to thoroughly enjoy the series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I’ve since read the entire series, and I was eagerly awaiting the next book.  Even if I wasn’t already a fan, the cover of this one would have drawn me in for sure!

From the publisher:

In the sixth installment of the wildly popular Dixie Hemingway mystery series, Dixie is caring for the cat of a prickly old man whose granddaughter shows up with baby in tow.  Dixie desperately tries to save this young woman and her infant from murderous con-artists ready to kill in order to hold on to the millions they stole from naive investors.  The villains, though, are not run-of-the-mill criminals; they are among the socially prominent movers and shakers in Dixie’s town.  As with other novels in the series, in the end, Dixie must confront her greatest fears and try to save the lives of the innocent, both two-legged and four.

This book has everything that makes a successful cozy mystery:  an immensely likable protagonist, a wonderful setting (especially when you’re reading it in the middle of winter), well-developed secondary characters, and, of course, there are plenty of cats. 

For me, the most enjoyable part about reading a series is always the development of the main character, and Clement does this masterfully, but the book can also be read on its own without taking anything away from it.  However, be forewarned:  once you read this one, you’re going to want to read the entire series.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read for mystery and cat lovers alike.  The only complaint I had about it was that it ended much too quickly, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Blaize Clement is the author of Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, Duplicity Dogged the DachshundCat Sitter on a Hot Tin Roof, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs.  Blaize has been a stay at home mom, dressmaker, caterer, family therapist, and writer, some of them all at the same time. She has never been a pet sitter, but has shared her home with dogs, cats, birds, fish, and neurotic gerbils. No snakes. She has a thing about snakes. She has written several parenting books, numerous essays and short stories and a play.  Blaize lives in Sarasota, Florida.

Look for an interview with Blaize Clement here on
The Conscious Cat on Wednesday, January 7!

I received a review copy of this book from the author.

About the author

Keeping your single cat happy

kitten-play-ball

Allegra was never supposed to be an only cat.  When I adopted the then 7-month-old kitten last April, the plan was for Amber, who was 12 at the time, to show her the ropes, and for the two of them to become playmates and best friends.

Less than five weeks after Allegra’s arrival, Amber passed away after a sudden, brief illness. I was devastated, and in addition to coping with my grief, which took up almost all the energy I had, I now had a sweet, but rambunctious, slightly juvenile delinquent kitten on my hands.

I knew if I wanted Allegra to be happy, and address some of her behavioral challenges at the same time (she chewed on everything from picture frames to books to the edges of my bedroom dresser, and she was slightly play aggressive), I needed to keep her entertained.  Ideally, I should have gotten her a companion of similar temperament, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet (and I’m still not quite ready).  So it was up to me to keep her active, stimulated and challenged.

All my cats always have been, and always will be, indoor cats.  I thought my home was kitty paradise already.  There are lots of windows with views of trees, birds and squirrels.  There are window perches in two bedrooms for the cats’ viewing pleasure and for naps in the sun.  There are cat toys everywhere.

But it was kitty paradise for older cats, not for a young, energetic kitten.  So I worked on what behaviorists call environmental enrichment.  I created hiding spaces for Allegra.  Cardboard boxes work just fine, as do grocery bags with the handles cut off.  Cat igloos and crinkly tunnels are fun, too.  I bought extra scratching posts.  I added vertical space.  There are numerous ways to do this:  cat trees, cat condos, shelves or window perches.  I got puzzle toys for her; they’re a great way to keep a young cat entertained.  I set up treasure hunts to keep her busy, hiding treats throughout the house and letting her find them.

All of this environmental enrichment was designed to keep Allegra entertained when I couldn’t play with her, but it was never meant to be a substitute for regular playtime.  I use a lot of interactive, fishing pole type toys to play with her.  These toys are designed to imitate prey behavior and they help wake the hunting instinct in cats.  Tossing balls or other small toys for her sends her racing through the house.  I haven’t managed to teach her to retrieve, although cats can learn how to do this.  I have a laser pointer toy, but rarely use it.  Even though Allegra goes nuts chasing after the red dot, it’s a very unsatisfactory way to play for her.  Cats’ play mimics hunting behavior, and it’s no fun for them if they can never catch their prey.

With young cats like Allegra, burning off excess energy is important.  We established regular play sessions of 10-15 minute each, at least twice a day, sometimes more frequently.  Playing before meals, or just before bedtime, works best.  Once we had these regular play sessions in place, a lot of Allegra’s behavior issues disappeared because she was no longer bored.

Eventually we’ll add another cat to our family.  For now, Allegra is very happy to be the only cat in her environmentally enriched home.

About the author

7 Tips for a Healthy, Happy New Year for Cats and Their Humans

cat-clover-grass

Happy New Year to all of you!  Thanks to your support, The Conscious Cat is growing rapidly. We have some exciting new things in mind for the new year, and we’re looking forward to continue to bring you all the information you need to keep your cats (and yourself) happy and healthy.

The seven tips listed below will get your year off to a good start and help make this your best year yet, for you and your cats!

1.  Feed a species appropriate diet

Nutrition is the foundation for good health. Cats are obligate carnivores and they need meat to thrive.  If you’re not already feeding a raw or grain-free canned diet, consider making this the year you make the switch. Your cats will thank you for it. You’ll find a wealth of information on feline nutrition, and on how to switch your cat to a healthier diet, right here on The Conscious Cat.

2.  Regular veterinary check ups

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends a minimum of annual wellness examinations for all cats in its Feline Life Stage Guidelines. According to the guidelines, “semi-annual wellness exams are often recommended for all feline life stages by veterinarians and veterinary organizations.Their reasoning includes the fact that changes in health status may occur in a short period of time; that ill cats often show no signs of disease; and that earlier detection of ill health, body weight changes, dental disease, and so on, allows for earlier intervention.”

3.  Keep your cat’s teeth healthy

Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for cats, and, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems including heart, kidney and liver disease. For more on why good dental health is so important for your cat, click here.

4.  Regular playtime

Make time to play with your cats. Regular playtime will not only keep your cat happy, it’s also a wonderful time for you to bond with your cat, and it helps you relieve your stress. Additionally, it provides exercise for kitty. Interactive toys make playtime fun for both of you. Consider puzzle toys for the times when you can’t play with your cats.

5.  Meditate with your cat

The benefits of meditation for humans have been scientifically proven. It just so happens that cats make the ideal meditation companion. For more on how to meditate with your cat, click here.

6.  Educate yourself about cat health

You are your cat’s guardian when it comes to health issues, and the more you know, the better off your cat will be.  You can count on us to bring you the latest information on everything you need to know to keep your cats happy and healthy.

7.  Do something for less fortunate cats

Helping others is an integral part of a life well lived, and it’s good for your health.  Even though we’d like to be able to, we can’t save every cat in need of a home, but there are things you can do to help, from donating money to your favorite shelter, to fostering cats for a local rescue, to volunteering time at a shelter to give the cats some love and attention.

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