Enrichment Guide for Cats

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enrich: to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When we talk about feline enrichment, we’re talking about enriching their environment, their sensory stimulation, and their behavior. These are especially important for indoor cats who don’t get the daily excitement (and danger) of the ever-changing environment outside. Whenever a cat has a behavior issue, enrichment should always be one of the first solutions to try.

ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT

When a cat sees the same old house or apartment day-in and day-out, they can quickly become bored with their surroundings. This is especially true if their basic biology is ignored by their caregivers. There are simply things that cats need in their lives in order to feel…well, like cats. There are things they need to do every day, like scratching and scent marking, and they will truly suffer if deprived of these activities.

CLIMB HIGH

Most cats enjoy being up high. It gives them a feeling of safety and satisfies their arboreal natures. It also exponentially increases their perceived living space. Achieving this doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Furniture can be arranged to allow stair-steps to higher spots like the tops of bookcases. Tall cat trees can also help when strategically placed throughout the home.

 
 

COZY HIDING SPOTS

Cats also like having places to hide where they feel safe. A box with a hole cut in the side or a blanket on the floor behind some boxes in the closet will do. Let your cat show you the way. She’ll probably have already picked out the hiding places she likes. Now it’s up to you to make them more comfy and secure. At the very least, never reach in and force her out of her safe area or she’ll probably move to a new spot.

 
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WINDOW ACCESS

While there’s no replacement for the great outdoors, there are ways for cats to experience it from a safe vantage point. Window access is a must. The more the merrier. Make sure your cat has convenient perches from which to watch the goings-on outside. If you can do so at your home, add a bird feeder outside the window to provide more entertainment for your cat.

 
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CATIOS

Catios are also a popular option that gives cats the feeling of the great outdoors but within safe confines. They may seem prohibitively expensive at first glance, but they can be easy enough to build on your own. Catio Spaces even offers DIY plans with clear instructions and parts lists. These plans also allow you to customize your catio to meet your own needs or the specific shape of the area you wish to enclose.

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HARNESS TRAINING

Harness training is also an option for many cats. Just be sure to choose a secure harness and work up to this adventure in baby steps. Begin with just the harness and reinforce with treats. Before long, you’ll be taking your cat for a walk in the garden. Just don’t forget the flea control.

 
 

SENSORY ENRICHMENT

Cats perceive the world using the same five sense that we use, but their perceptions are quite different from our own. Their senses have been carefully tuned to help them be the best predators they can be.

SCENTs

The sense of smell is of utmost importance to cats. They see scents the way we see brightly colored signposts. They use their sense of smell to track prey, to mark their territory, and to form familial bonds. Their own scents are like coded messages that other cats can decode hours and even days after they’ve left them.

You can help your cat enjoy and understand her world by allowing him to experience new smells every day. When you come home, allowing him to smell your hands is a bit like telling him a story about everywhere you’ve been while you were out.

You can also hide treats for him to locate with that acute sense of smell. And since around 60% of cats have receptors that react to catnip, that’s also a great treat from time to time. Just be sure to crush it between your fingers to release more of the oils present in the dried leaves usually offered to cats.

 
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SOUNDS

Our cats’ hearing range is higher than ours in order to hear rodent squeaks and tiny feet but they don’t hear low range sounds like we do. That means that they prefer toys that make high-pitched crinkly sounds. A wadded up ball of paper can be perfect for batting practice as it makes great crinkly, skittery sounds when attacked or knocked across the room.

It’s also important to be aware of sounds that might annoy our feline friends. Most electronics emit high-pitched whines that are beyond our ability to hear, but cats can certainly hear them. Even the refrigerator and air conditioner coming on unexpectedly can frighten a cat. That’s why it’s usually best to place their food bowls and litter box far away from noisy appliances and doors.

 
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SIGHTS

Their eyesight is strong in some ways and weak in others. Cats can see clearly with almost no light at all but they can’t see well up close. Ever wonder why they have a hard time finding that treat you’re holding right in front of them? They can smell it, but they can’t see it.

We mentioned windows and bird feeders above, so we’ll just reiterate that suggestion here. Aquariums can also be stimulating as long as they’re secured so the fish are safe.

In addition, there are a number of made-for-cats videos available for free on YouTube. We’ve had mixed results from the use of these videos. They’re great if they’re used in moderation and followed by a rigorous play session. However, they can frustrate some cats when they’re unable to jump through the screen and catch the birds. The effect can be the same as the laser toy they can never catch. These are great as a build up to a play session with a physical toy, but they aren’t a replacement for interactive play.

TOUCH

This may sound obvious, but spend time petting and brushing your cat. Most cats derive tremendous satisfaction from gentle physical caresses. They react the same way that they would to being groomed by another cat, so don’t be surprised if they give you a lick or two in response. Just be careful not to overstimulate your cat. When a cat’s back ripples or quivers or her tail thrashes from side to side, it’s time to give her a break. Those signals are meant to communicate their overstimulated state to other cats, but humans don’t always get the message.

 
 

A relatively new concept is the addition of touch-toys. These have unusual textures or surfaces that feel good when rubbed against. Every cat reacts differently to them but some truly enjoy this sort of toy.

BEHAVIOR ENRICHMENT

It’s important that cats be encouraged to behave like cats. If we deny them the things that their very nature tells them they need, we’re doing them a tremendous disservice and we’re opening the door for problem behaviors later on. These are behaviors that serve a purpose for them and nature has selected these behaviors because they contribute to the overall fitness of the species. We can help to facilitate these behaviors in order to have a happier cat.

MARKING BEHAVIORS

Rubbing against things is often misinterpreted by cat aficionados. This is a marking behavior most often using the scent glands at the cheeks and base of the tail. Cats use these scent glands to mark their territory with their scent. This is why they rub against door jambs and even our legs and hands. They feel more secure when surrounded by their own scent. We can’t smell these odors, but they stand out to cats like colored smoke. They can see if other cats have been around and they can even create family scents that are mixes of the smells made by all the cats and humans in the house. This is one of the reasons they like being on our beds so much - they contain heavy concentrations of our human scents that our cats associate with a feeling of family.

We can encourage rubbing behaviors by using all manner of textured surfaces at our cat’s eye level. There are some great arch toys that are highly appealing to cats and there are textured plastic units that can screw to any right-angled surface like a door frame. We especially like these because they can be positioned at your cat’s favorite height and can sometimes even be helpful in relocating these behaviors to more desirable (for the humans) spots.

 
 

Scratching is another marking behavior, and it’s one that some people try to discourage. Some barbarians even go so far as to have their cats declawed. Fortunately, this practice is slowly being outlawed, but it shows just how little most people understand their cats. Cats have to scratch. They have no choice. It’s how they shed their outer nail sheaths in order to keep their claws sharp. It’s also a way of marking their territory with the scent glands in their paws. They have to have convenient places to scratch or they’ll make their own. Scratching posts are a necessity. The bigger the better and the more the better lest you find that the side of your favorite easy chair is a prime target. Your feline friend should be able to extend her entire body when scratching and stretching, so having posts that are at least twice as high as your cat’s head height are best. They also need to be sturdy. If a post wobbles when a cat is using it, she may come to distrust it. Some cats also like to scratch on horizontal surfaces, so inexpensive cardboard scratchers can be put to good use as well.

 
 

HUNTING

Probably the number one drive in cats is the need to hunt and kill prey. This goes beyond their need to feed themselves as anyone with an outdoor cat knows all too well. Cats need to stalk the prey, capture the prey, kill the prey and eat in order to feel satiated. We can help them to perform these activities without risking the health and well-being of local wildlife. We do so by simulating the hunt using toys.

Every cat has a particular type of prey that he responds to. For some, it’s birds. For others, it’s rodents. Some like lizards. This is important to note so you can choose the right toys for your little predator. If he gets excited when he sees birds outside, try Da Bird. If he’s constantly eyeing squirrels in the yard, get him stuffed mice to play with.

 
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Anything can be an effective toy as long as you learn to simulate the hunt.When being hunted by a cat, a bird isn’t going to dangle over the cat’s face. It’s going to fly rapidly overhead, maybe even dive-bombing the cat. Or maybe it’s going to be hurt and trying to hide on the ground. Whatever play most excites your cat, DO THAT. Most cats are particularly excited when prey disappears from view, so have it go around corners but still make a noise. Allow your cat time to stalk the prey and observe it before pouncing.

Laser pointers have become popular cat toys because cats respond to them. That’s due to the fact that cats have motion-sensitive vision that makes them respond more to quick movements than to slow ones. The trouble with lasers is that there’s nothing to catch, so cats can end up feeling unfulfilled by their pretend hunt. Some cats can also become neurotically obsessed with every flicker of light and shadow once conditioned to chase the red dot. It can be quite distressing to them, so our general recommendation is against using lasers altogether. If you choose to use a laser toy, just use it sparingly and offer a catchable toy at the end of each red dot hunt.

 
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It’s important to note that toys don’t have to be expensive. They need to be safe for cats, but beyond that anything goes. We’ve found that freshly crumpled paper does the trick more often than not. And boxes - ANY boxes - are always a hit. Variety is important, so rotate toys frequently.

If you use string, yarn, or twine with your homemade toys, just make sure you put them away when you’re not around so your feline friend doesn’t accidentally swallow them. The barbs on cats’ tongues face inward, so they can often force a string down a cat’s throat and they won’t be able to get it out. The end result can be a blocked intestinal tract and expensive surgery to save your friend’s life.

Some people recommend the use of feeding toys such as kibble-dispensing balls and puzzle feeders. While we agree with the general concept of these, the ones we’ve tested have used kibble exclusively. Since we don’t recommend feeding your cat kibble, we find it difficult to recommend these toys.

DRINKING

Cats have notoriously low thirst drives. Having descended from a species of desert-dwelling wild cats, it makes sense. Unfortunately, this trait does them a disservice today. Up to 80% of geriatric cats have been shown to have varying degrees of kidney disease. This staggering statistic is largely due to the feeding of moisture-poor foods such as kibble. In the wild, most cats obtain the moisture they need from the prey they hunt and eat. At home, we need to make water a little more appetizing to them. We do that by adding a fountain.

Many pet cats show a preference for running water. The speculation is that stagnant water in the wild would be more likely to be contaminated. We can use this preference to our advantage and encourage our cats to drink more. It’s preferable to offer up water in a stainless steel container, but a plastic one will do if that’s what they will accept. The problem with plastic is that it harbors bacteria, so if you opt for a plastic fountain, be extra-diligent in keeping it clean.

 
 

Clicker TRAINING

Having regular training sessions can help cats have something to think about other than seeing what stuffing is inside your pillows. Many cats respond well to training challenges especially if those cats are particularly food motivated.

Clicker training is associative positive reinforcement training that uses a clicking device to mark the point when the cat has achieved the goal you’ve set out for them. We’ll be adding an entire article on clicker training soon, but suffice it to say that this kind of training is inexpensive and entertaining for both the trainer and the trainee. It’s even used with humans to great success.

 
 

ANOTHER CAT

The ultimate cat enrichment tool is another cat! While it may be unwise to try and get a cat over the age of four to embrace a newcomer, younger cats are usually open to the idea if introduced gradually. Every cat is different, though. If your feline friend was hand-reared as a baby, he or she may be frightened by any attempts at introducing a newcomer. Gender may also play a role in that male cats are less likely to participate in familial units in the wild, but female cats often stay together later in life.

We want to make this point crystal clear: some cats are truly happier being in one-cat households. If a new cat terrorizes your long term resident, don’t feel guilty about returning the newcomer to the rescue. That said, if you can adopt a bonded pair together to begin with, everyone in the household will be much happier. It’s actually easier to take care of two cats than one because they entertain one another. Of course, there are also extra expenses to consider. Do your due diligence and if you can afford it, we think two (or more) cats is definitely the way to go.

 
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CONCLUSION

We hope this article has helped you to see that enrichment comes in many forms. Take a few moments to look at your home from your cat’s point of view and you’re bound to see some easy ways to make their world more fun and interesting. Good luck!


Letting Your Cat Take the Lead

While most dogs like to be led, most cats do not. Cats, being solitary hunters, enjoy making their own choices and can sometimes dislike it when we try to force them to follow our rules. This can result in everything from hurt feelings to various forms of acting out. Contrary to popular opinion, a cat who’s acting out isn’t doing so out of a desire for revenge. They’re usually just trying to tell us that something’s wrong.

Cats speak to one another in a stunning array of subtle physical cues. In the wild, they rarely vocalize to one another, reserving their speaking voice for interactions between mothers and kittens. But with humans, they often learn that vocalizing is a good way to get our attention. Once they’ve gone so far as to say it out loud, you can bet that they’ve tried multiple ways to communicate the same thing non-verbally first. Sometimes we know immediately what they want, as is the case at feeding time, but what about those other times? Usually, if your cat sits and stares at you, he or she is asking for something.

Over our 12+ years together, when Mina has stared at me like that or tapped me with her paw, I’ve responded by saying, “Show me.” She knows what the phrase means and she reacts with great pleasure. She usually leads me to something that is a concern for her. It could be a dirty litter box or an animal outside or maybe a bug that got into the house. Sometimes it’s a request for me to sit with her while she eats. Whatever it is, I always allow her to lead the way. I say, “Show me,” and stand up, ready to follow. She usually rubs against my legs and then takes off toward her goal. I follow, careful to stay behind her and remain patient. Usually, she pauses and looks back to make eye contact to be sure I’m still paying attention, then she continues on her way. It’s pretty clear that she’s reached her destination when she stops and settles. I thank her and pet her even if I don’t clearly understand what she wanted, encouraging her to continue initiating these interactions. On the times when I do understand, I do my best to give her what she’s asking for, be it a little snack or a few moments of playing fetch. These rewards also encourage her to continue to reach out and communicate.

Mina came up to me and tapped my leg a few times as I was writing this post, so I grabbed a camera and quickly shot this video. The quality’s not great but it gives you some idea of how this works. In this case, she just wanted some company while she ate, which is a standard request from her.

Whenever we speak to our feline friends, it helps to use words and phrases that sound unique. Since cats lack the verbal articulation of humans, they can sometimes confuse different words that sound similar to one another. “Show me” sounds unique enough that it’s not going to be confused with other words and phrases a cat already knows and it has the added benefit of soft phonemes that don’t sound like commands. Whenever you try to communicate with a cat, it’s best to be as consistent as possible with the sounds of your words. The way you say them is as important as the words themselves because cats can only associate meaning to sounds when those sounds are the same every time they hear them. Say the word “free”. Now sing the Star Spangled Banner line that ends “in the land of the freeeeeeeeeee!” Same word, different sounds, right?

“Show me” isn’t a phrase I invented. I originally read a post suggesting it on a cat care blog called the Way of Cats. It made sense to me then so I employed it in my interactions with Mina to great effect. Credit where credit is due.

I’ve found that my feline friends are happier knowing that I’m open to their attempts at communications. I wish I understood all the physical kitty small talk, but until I do, I watch, I listen, and I try to let them know that I’m here to help them.

How Many Rabies Vaccinations Are Enough?

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As I write this, I am wrestling with living in a municipality where an annual rabies vaccination is required for all cats registered in the area. My question is, why is this the law when we know that an initial rabies vaccination followed by a booster when the cat is just a kitten will pretty much insure lifelong immunity? Even if it doesn’t, an antibody test or titer every few years will certainly show that a re-vaccination may be needed.

I briefly answered a question on this subject here, but wanted to take a moment to dig deeper and present the case that many of the laws governing vaccination requirements for pets need to be changed. Let me start by stating unequivocally that I believe that all cats need to be vaccinated. I am not some silly anti-vaxxer who thinks that vaccines are evil. Quite the contrary, I know that vaccines are an important component of the general well-being of our pets. Without rabies vaccines, the disease would be much a more prevalent problem than it actually is in most parts of the world.

Unfortunately, all the lawmakers really know about it is that the vaccine works under current laws. But when we take a look at the science behind the rabies vaccine, we see some good news and some bad news.

The good news is, as stated above, the vaccines work. We do not have major outbreaks of rabid pets in urban areas across the country. In fact, we have very few reported incidents of rabies at all among domesticated animals.

Wildlife has accounted for > 90% of all rabid animals reported in the United States since the 1980s.
— Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

You can read the full report, which focuses on the 2017 calendar year, HERE. It states that in 2017, “Of the 4,454 cases of animal rabies, 4,055 (91.0%) involved wildlife species.” Of the 399 cases of domesticated animals reported with rabies, 276 were cats and 62 were dogs. With >99% of human deaths from rabies worldwide coming from human contact with rabid dogs, it’s safe to say that we’re well protected from the disease in the US. The major cause of concern here is the transfer of the disease from wildlife to our pets, but that clearly isn’t happening frequently. I would hypothesize that most of the cats and dogs who contracted the disease did so because they were not vaccinated at all.

The bad news is that the success we’ve had in minimizing the impact of rabies has come largely from a policy of over-vaccination of pets in a large hammer approach. While this has truly been effective, we’ve seen some negative consequences among the cat population. Potential side effects include injection site tumors (sarcomas), persistent vomiting, diarrhea, hives, swelling, breathing difficulty, and collapse.

Cats are especially susceptible to injection site sarcomas. These are cancerous tumors that develop at the location of the injection (usually between the shoulder blades) and which can develop weeks, months, or even years after the injection (ref. AVMA). Cat-friendly veterinarians can choose to use vaccines such as Purevax without an adjuvant to help minimize this problem. They may also keep track of injection locations and rotate locations frequently, keeping to the extremities in case a tumor were to develop.

The problem is that current rabies vaccination laws were mostly written during the 1970s. When the laws were written, they were VERY effective at curbing a problem that presented great risk to an exploding population of pets and their caregivers. At that point, most municipalities closed the book on this particular set of laws and have not addressed them since, taking a “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” attitude. Well, many veterinarians and researchers like Dr. Ronald Schultz, disagree and recommend change.

Dr. Schultz is the head of the pathobiological sciences department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine. His specialty is veterinary immunology, and he states that the core vaccines needed by cats are feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline herpes virus, and rabies” (ref. YouTube interview). He states that every cat should receive these as a kitten. The remaining vaccines are considered non-core or optional.

We do a lot of vaccinating and sometimes don’t do very much immunizing.”
— Dr. Ronald Schultz

Dr. Schultz recommends that a kitten receive core vaccinations at 8, 12, and 16 weeks. Then, two or more weeks later, the kitten should be tested with an antibody titer to make sure that the vaccinations have induced an immune response to panleukopenia in particular. This can weed out non-responders and establish protective immunity. Those pets are now protected for life. There is no reason to continue boosting vaccines because it doesn’t improve the immune response. He only recommends re-vaccinating every three years if a titer isn’t performed.

“If you don’t do that antibody titer two or more weeks after the last…shot, then we’re recommending that you re-vaccinate in a year…and then after that, what we recommend is three years or longer, which means not more often than three years. Now, that’s a very conservative number in that most of those animals will be protected for life, so giving the vaccine every three years may not be necessary…Some clients…will go with titers to actually determine whether or not they need a so-called booster.” He goes on to explain that there are various methods of titering and that the numerical results given “don’t mean anything as long as they’re positive.”

In regards to the rabies vaccine, Dr. Schultz says that in the 1980s, it was suggested that the modified live rabies vaccines used back then be administered annually because no one really knew how long the immunity lasted. When some kittens contracted rabies from the modified live vaccine, there was a shift to the non-infectious, inactivated rabies vaccines. He states, “We never did change the vaccination program. We changed the vaccine, but not the program.”

His department at the University of Wisconsin is currently conducting a study to extend the legal length of time between re-vaccination from a maximum of three years to a maximum of seven. The fact is that in most animals, immunity will last a lifetime, but the current need is for proof that our pets’ immunity lasts much longer than was previously believed. The difficulty with conducting these studies is that their duration has to be at least as long as the term being studied. They settled on a study length of seven years to reap the benefits sooner rather than later. If a study of feline immunity were to cover a cat’s lifetime, it could last 20 years or more and be of little benefit in changing the laws in the short term.

For this reason, it’s imperative that the laws get changed to require antibody testing instead of requiring vaccinations. Municipalities need to accept titer test results in lieu of re-vaccination. The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has come up with a screening test to determine if patients need vaccine “boosters”. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association is supporting them in their effort, and we must as well.

The requirements that cats be registered and vaccinated according to current laws means that many cats will never receive their very necessary vaccines when they’re kittens. The law’s very existence even dissuades some people from visiting a veterinarian on a regular basis.

Dr. Schultz said, “The animal that’s not getting vaccinated, whether the requirement is annual or every three years, won’t get vaccinated. It’s just a penalty for the compliant…owner and they’re actually potentially causing harm to their pet because they’re willing to follow the law, whereas the rest of the people who are not vaccinating at all are creating the problem and they’re not going to follow the law whether it’s one year, two years, or three years.”

Please reach out to your lawmakers and let them know your concerns about the current laws governing local vaccination requirements for your pets. It’s important to approach them in a calm and businesslike manner and to address them properly in order to be more persuasive, but you should also be firm with a clear expression of what you’d like to see happen. I’ve prepared a sample letter here that you can download to copy and edit to your liking.

You can find the contact information for your local legislators at USA.gov. I recommend that you print and mail your letter the old fashioned way in order to get more attention. It’s just too easy for lawmakers to ignore emails or dismiss them. Paper letters are difficult to ignore, especially if they start stacking up.

The Rabies Challenge Fund is currently supporting Dr. Schultz and his ongoing immunity study. I encourage you to support them in their stated goal of determining the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines in order to influence future changes to animal vaccination laws.

-Tom

Tools For Success With Your Feline Friends

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Every cat is different, but most share the ability to learn given the right circumstances. No matter what you’re trying to achieve with your cat, there are some basic tools that you’ll need for success. Don’t worry - these aren’t expensive tools. In fact, we expect that you have them in your tool kit already, whether you know it or not. If you’d like to succeed with training your kitty, these 10 handy tools will give you a great head start.

TOOL #1 - PATIENCE

No cat will make big changes overnight. It takes consistency for them to grow and change their behavior. Give each cat the time she needs to adapt and learn.

TOOL #2 - CALM DETACHMENT

If you’re upset or distracted, your cat will know it. He may not visibly react to it, but he’ll know it. You get the most mileage out of your interactions with cats if you maintain a calm demeanor. Accept what they give you in each training session as the gift that it is and praise every tiny step forward.

TOOL #3 - UNDERSTANDING

Try to look at things through your feline friend’s eyes. Yes, that does mean getting down on the floor to see the world from their point of view. It’s quite a bit different from yours, isn’t it? Now remember that your home is the entire world to your cat. You may be her only friend and playmate in the whole world. It’s no wonder she sometimes seeks your attention at times when it’s least convenient. The better you can empathize with your cat, the better you’ll be at tools 1 and 2.

TOOL #4 - TIME

In order to make progress with your cat, you need to spend time with him. Bonding begins with feedings and lap times but it’s also reinforced by casual encounters and acknowledgements. If you walk into a room and see your cat looking at you, that look is an invitation for interaction. Just a smile or a nice word in passing lets them know that they’re truly a member of the family. The more time you spend petting, talking to, or smiling at your cat, the easier the training sessions will be. And those sessions will also require time. It’s best to set aside a little time each day for training. Even if it’s just five minutes at a time. Consistency wins.

TOOL #5 - KINDNESS

Even when your cat does something that displeases you, isn’t she still just doing what cats do? Most cats do not respond well to punishment. Negative reinforcement will usually train a cat to avoid you. They simply will not associate your actions with their own behavior. They’ll see it as mistreatment and they’ll quickly learn to give you a wide berth. Positive reinforcement will render the best results. Most of the things that we silly humans label as “misbehavior” are simply a cats way of showing what they need. If they are too rambunctious at bedtime, they probably need better scheduling. If they attack everything that moves (including your feet), they probably need more play time. It’s important to remember that cats never act out of malice.

TOOL #6 - REWARDS

Cats are most often motivated by food (especially treats), but they can also be motivated by praise and affection. Utilize their favorite treats when the hard core training is taking place and you’ll go farther, faster. Never give out treats indiscriminately or they’ll lose some of their value in training. The rarity of the special treats will make your feline friend even more motivated to learn. Just don’t be stingy with them when training. Whenever your cat makes an effort to comply with your wishes, reward him!

TOOL #7 - JOURNAL

Keeping some sort of a record of your successes with your cat will help to keep you motivated and remind you of how far you’ve come together. This can be a mental list, a Google Doc, photos, videos, or just a scrap of paper. It’s great to look back on early entries on those days when you feel that your cat isn’t progressing. You’ll quickly see that she’s made great leaps, even though she may have plateaued for the moment. These notes can also be a reminder to switch up your training activities. Boredom is a big enemy to effective training sessions, for both humans and cats.

TOOL #8 - COMMUNICATION

Be consistent in the words and the tone of voice you use in your cat’s training. Cats hear your words as simple sounds without meaning at first. As you repeat them, they gradually learn to associate your human sounds with actions or objects. The more consistently you can reproduce a sound, the easier it will be for your cat to learn it. At the same time, listen carefully to the sounds your cat makes. In the wild, cats rarely vocalize to other adults, but our feline friends have learned that vocalizing get the attention of us humans. They will develop a private vocabulary just for you and if you’re attentive, you’ll soon be able to learn what many of their cat words mean.

TOOL #9 - ATTENTION

Cats ask for things with their eyes more often than they do with vocalizations. Take note of what your cat is looking at, especially when he’s looking directly at you for more than a second or two. A slow eye blink will reassure him as will a quick scratch under the chin. Let him know that you’re understanding his attempts at communication, most of which are silent.

TOOL #10 - LOVE

It may go without saying, but it’s important to remember why you’re doing this. Hopefully, it’s because you love your little feline friend and want to get the most out of your time together. Cats can be fast friends and steadfast companions when cared for and given the love they need. Some people think of cats as aloof creatures who don’t need us at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cats certainly do need social interactions, and training can help them to feel accomplishment. Training is especially important for indoor-only cats who often need more challenge in their lives. Challenge them with love and you’ll see them grow and become even closer to you.

If you dust off these tools from your kit and put them to work, we guarantee that you’ll have a much easier time getting your feline friend to cooperate with your wishes. As always, please let us know if we can help!

The Biological Value of Cat Food Ingredients

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Every time we write a post about cat foods, we get a handful of people who react with disdain. “My Mr. Boots was fed nothing but cat chow since the day he was born and he lived to the ripe old age of 27!” While these sorts of outliers do exist, it’s important that we recommend the best course of action for all cat guardians, not just for a select few who’ve encountered cats that are particularly adaptable when it comes to food. We’re looking to help cats to thrive, not just to survive. A human could survive on Captain Crunch alone, but it’s unlikely that would make them happy and healthy. The fact is that all cat foods are not created equal. Most commercial foods contain lots of cost-cutting ingredients in order to maximize profits for the companies making them. How do we know that for sure? Science.

The biological value of each ingredient can be measured and given a number on a scale of 0-100 for a given species. A “food” with a feline biological value rating of 0 is something of absolutely no nutritional value to cats while one with a feline biological value of 100 is a food that a cat’s biology can make 100% use of. The big pet food companies are banking on the fact that you are not aware of this. That’s why we’re sharing the information with you now. Not to chastise you or to tell you that you’ve been feeding your feline friends incorrectly - far from it. We want you to know the facts so that, regardless of your budget, you can still choose the best possible options for your cat.

Let’s start with that most important of feline nutrients, protein, as our example. There are lots of different types of protein molecules, but they all exist only in living things. They are one of the building blocks of life on this planet and may indeed turn out to be the FIRST building block on which all life that we know of was subsequently built.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, many of which humans, cats and other animals cannot synthesize. These essential amino acids must be present in the animal’s food in order for them to survive. There are big differences in the amino acids that are present in various proteins. While they are all proteins, their quality is determined by how useful they are to an animal’s biology - their biological value. For cats, chicken eggs represent the highest end of the protein scale scoring a 100. Wheat scores a paltry 50.

Dogs and cats digest animal proteins better than those from plants, but products of low-quality animal origin are poorly digested, including skin, feathers, and connective tissue.
— Linda P. Case, Leighann Daristotle, Michael G. Hayek, Melody Foess Raasch, Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals, 3rd edition 2010

This quote tells us a lot about pet foods. Most of the big pet food manufacturers include poorly digested proteins near the top of their ingredients lists under names like meat by-products and wheat gluten. Neither of these ingredients is of a high feline biological value, yet they occur in many of the commercial cat foods available today. Why? Because they’re cheap.

As recently as the 1980s, cats were going blind and dying from taurine deficiencies in commercial cat foods. The people in charge of designing those diets had been instructed to replace meat with plant products where possible in order to boost profits. The end result was that the diets lacked taurine, a key amino acid that cats cannot synthesize on their own. Of course, no one realized that fact until the research was done to determine the cause of the problems.

Humans are not very knowledgeable about nutrition in general. We can’t even say for sure whether many foods are good for us or bad for us - just take a look at articles about wine or coffee written over the last ten years. The popular “food pyramid”, a dumbing down of human nutrition to help it make sense to everyone, has since been shown to have missed the mark by a significant margin. If we can’t determine what our own diets should be, how will we ever know enough about a species that has been rarely studied? We have to base their diets entirely on the types of foods that we can observe them eating in the wild. Which brings us back to those ingredients lists.

The pet food companies began to include wheat gluten as a primary ingredient in order to boost the overall protein levels of the foods they were making. Wheat gluten levels have crept up slowly and whole meat levels have dropped. Very few consumers have even noticed. Most consumers are mostly persuaded by the the pictures of human food and happy animals on the packages and never really notice what’s in the actual food behind the label.

Which brings us to our suggestion that the foods you feed your feline friends be made primarily of whole meat ingredients. Yes, a raw “prey” diet would be best, but we know that most of our readers live in the real world of deadlines and budgets and it’s not always an easy feat to pull off. Companies like Darwins are doing a great job making it easier to feed raw, but they’re also in the crosshairs of the establishment.

The big pet food companies companies have been so effective at getting their costs down that well-made cat foods can now seem absolutely pricey in comparison. We know that not everyone can afford to feed the best foods, but we encourage you to feed the best that you can afford. Look at the labels and think about what the feline biological values of some of the main ingredients are. If ingredients fall further down the list, it’s okay to let a few things slide by, especially if you’re on a budget, but those top three to five ingredients should always be whole meats with the highest biological value for cats.


My Last Cat Syndrome

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There is no more sincere form of flattery than stealing ideas, so today I’m stealing from a wonderful dog trainer, Michael Baugh who recently posted about My Last Dog Syndrome, or MLDS. I was so touched by his post that I wanted to do more than share it. I wanted to explain how there is also a My Last Cat syndrome that many of us go through after we lose one of our favorite cats.

You see, My Last Cat Syndrome, or MLCS, is a very real malady that affects just about everyone who has lost a favorite feline in the past. We constantly compare My New Cat with My Last Cat. We tend to see our former cat companions as perfect in so many ways. We even see their more irritating qualities as endearing. If only we could extend that graciousness to our current feline friends. They are here now, in our lives, ready to give their all to us and they deserve better.

Cats are especially prone to unique personality quirks that we need to accept before attempting any kind of training. I have one feline friend who needs a hug before each meal and even then may not eat until she’s absolutely sure she’s safe. I have one who behaves like a Looney Tunes character and wolfs down every morsel like a dog. Each of these cats is wonderful in her own way, and the greatest gift I can give each of them is acceptance.

Acceptance is the greatest training tool in our arsenal. When offering training guidelines, it’s important to factor in the things each cat wants to do. This helps to pave the road to success. We need to make sure we aren’t forcing something on them that they neither want nor enjoy. We need to adapt our expectations to the raw material we’re given. If a kitten is prone to biting noses, we can help them to succeed by replacing our nose with a ball that they can bite instead. We can also help them by never placing our nose within reach. Tempting them with our nose only sets them up to fail and we want them to succeed. We can help them by acknowledging who they are, not just what we want them to be.

If you were asked to paint a picture of the sky but were only given red and orange paints, what kind of sky do you think you’d paint? Probably a sunrise or sunset. You would become very frustrated and unhappy if you set your heart on painting a crystal clear blue sky or a rainy sky before the paints were revealed, but that’s what some cat caregivers do when they get a new cat. They immediately get infected with My Last Cat Syndrome.

“My last cat sat on my lap all the time. How do I get my new cat to do that?” is a frequent refrain. My New Cat is a young, fiery sunset full of energy and My Last Cat was a sedate, goth girl. How can they ever be expected to behave in similar ways? They are as different as a palette of red paints and a palette of blues. Both are palettes of paint, to be sure, but they both do well at very different things. The sooner we acknowledge that reds can be wonderful too, the sooner we’ll find our way with My New Cat.

And if I truly want My New Cat to have a personality like that of My Last Cat, my best option is to adopt an adult. Most folks go straight for the kittens because, let’s face it, they’re irresistible, but older cats need homes too, and you can get a better idea of their personalities before you choose who you’d like to adopt. In addition, an adult cat will presumably already be spayed or neutered and be current on all his or her shots. It really can be a win-win.

Just Say NO to Animal Psychics

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There are so many shysters out there trying to take your money with false promises. Recently, we've become aware of an uptick in new age "animal communicators". These are people who claim to have a special gift of understanding the thoughts and feelings of your precious pets. These people are the lowest of the low, preying on people's love for their pets with lies masquerading as pseudo-science. This should be illegal, but if you can get people to pay for something in this country, there's no stopping you.

Let's be clear - There is no such thing as mind-reading between humans or between humans and animals. These people are using the age old tricks of the palm reader to tell their customers what they want to hear. They're performing what's called a "cold reading" in the palmistry biz - a series of guesses based on the limited information presented. Vague statements that can then be narrowed down in a sort of warmer-colder word game.

If anyone offers to help you to understand your pet's behavior using anything other than their knowledge of the species and observational skills, run as far away as you can. YOU will always be the ultimate source of info on your pet, because only YOU have the opportunity to observe him or her daily. You'll never have a need for these fake "animal communicators" if you just pay attention.

Dental Care for Cats Is a Necessity

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Dental care for cats is on my mind lately because one of our precious feline friends has a heart condition. What does that have to do with her dental care? Read on.

Mina, the black cat you see in many of our posts, is a 12 year old rescue cat with a pronounced heart murmur. Due to her heart defect, most vets refuse to offer her nonessential treatment (i.e. - treatment for anything that's not life threatening) if the treatment requires she be put under general anesthesia. The trouble with anesthetizing her is that it affects her blood pressure in unpredictable ways and the anesthesia could actually result in her death. Due to this, she's lived for over 12 years with only the routine, at-home dental treatments we could get her to accept from us.

Recently, she began exhibiting some excessive drooling as well as bad breath - classic symptoms of dental issues. She didn't seem to be in pain, but cats are very good at hiding physical discomfort. Her teeth were a mess, with many of her issues hidden under tartar buildup. It was clear that she was going to need extractions in addition to other dental procedures in order to live a happier life.

We consulted a verterinary cardiologist who administered an echo-cardiogram and prescribed a beta blocker to help manage Mina's heart health. Only then did he accept the risk of putting her under for the dental work she so desperately needed.

We had to wait for three weeks to get an appointment with the vet we wanted to do the work, and during that time, the vet researched her options for Mina's oral surgery. She chose to create an anesthetic protocol specifically for cats with heart problems like Mina's.

We had Mina's surgery yesterday and were consulted throughout regarding Mina's ups and downs. Seven of Mina's teeth were extracted or partially extracted and her remaining teeth were cleaned. Thanks to the diligence of Dr. Porter and the team at A Cat Clinic, Mina's surgery was successful and she's now resting at home as well as can be expected.

Dental care for our cats is necessary care. It should not be optional. Regular dental care from a qualified veterinarian will not only help them avoid future pain, it will help you to avoid the high financial cost of treatment as well as the price of watching your feline friend suffer. It can be easy to brush this need off (no pun intended) because cats hide their pain so well, but it's imperative. It isn't a veterinary sales ploy. It's a necessity for a healthy, happy cat.

Cat Rescues Vs. Breeders

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There are those who think that cat breed A, B or C is just the best because that’s the kind of cat they identify with. Maybe those Siamese cats in Lady & the Tramp just made a big impression or maybe or it’s how they’d like others to think of them. Well, I’m here to tell you that they’d be better off adopting. Breeders are the bane of rescue groups everywhere.

The biggest issue is simply that the world has enough cats without breeders making more. Statistics from the ASPCA state that 1.4 million cats are euthanized in the US shelter system each and every year. Approximately 70% of the cats who enter shelters are euthanized. This number is changing with no-kill facilities, but it is still alarming.

For every cat purchased from a breeder, a perfectly suitable cat could have been adopted from a rescue or a shelter. And don’t tell me you couldn’t find a suitable cat! I’ve worked at one of the finest Humane Societies in the country and I can tell you we saw every size shape, color, and disposition you could ever imagine, including some cats who were very likely purebreds.

It’s important that we not support the work of breeders. Even though some are well-intentioned, they are still making their living off the exploitation of cats. It’s a business that the breeder relies upon for their income, and that income is much more important to them than the well being of the animals in their care. Many will claim to be in love with the breed that they sell, but their queens (the mothers they use like kitten factories) aren’t given the benefit of happy lives in loving homes.

In addition, animals who are bred for a particular appearance also become victim of a litany of maladies as they’re inbred again and again. Genetic defects are the rule, not the exception in purebred animals of any sort. It’s a fact that most mixed breeds live happier, healthier lives than their purebred cousins.

It’s also important to note that most breeders don’t require the kittens they sell to be spayed or neutered. Most rescues and shelters do require their cats to be “fixed” prior to adoption because their goal is to reduce the overall population of cats. In fact, most rescue and shelter workers would be quite happy to be out of a job tomorrow if that were possible.

Please don’t add to the cat overpopulation problem by buying a pet from a breeder. There are many wonderful rescues and shelters throughout the world who would be very happy to help you find your feline soulmate. In the end, you’ll have helped not only the cat you adopt but also the species as a whole.

-Tom

Cat Food Vs. Cat Feed - What's the Difference?

Most pet "foods" on the market are really pet "feeds". What's the difference? I'm glad you asked!

A quick Google search reveals that food is defined as:

any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.

The same site defines feed as:

food for domestic animals.

The truth is that feed and food are two very different things. Both provide basic sustenance, but at very different degrees of effectiveness. To get to the heart of the matter, we have to look at the usage and connotations of each word.

Food is generally thought of as something that people eat. Our concept of food is that it is delicious and nutritious. It brings to mind family meals around a table at Thanksgiving, or at a favorite restaurant. When we think of food, we usually think of the meals that sustain us.

Feed is something that we throw down for animals to keep them alive just long enough for us to get something from them. That something is usually their very bodies. Feed is cheap. It's neither delicious nor nutritious beyond the very base needs of the species that's being fed. It's basically recycled garbage left over from human food production or other industries. I recently saw a plea for citizens to bring in palm fronds downed during a storm so that they could be used as cattle feed. Feed is roadkill. Feed is diseased waste. Feed is whatever can be forced on a starving animal to keep them alive for one more day. And feed is where the pet food industry began.

Let's look at the history of that most famous of pet food brands, Purina. According to Wikipedia:

Ralston Purina traces its roots to 1894, when founder William H. Danforth established the animal feed company Purina Mills. William H. Danforth, partnered with George Robinson and William Andrews, entered the business of feeding farm animals by founding the Robinson-Danforth Commission Company. The name was changed to Ralston Purina in 1902. Its predominant brand for each animal was generally referred to as “Chow”; hence “Purina Horse Chow”, “Purina Dog Chow”, “Purina Cat Chow”, “Purina Rabbit Chow”, “Purina Pig Chow”, and even “Purina Monkey Chow”.

The fundamental difference between human food and animal feed is reinforced throughout the article, and in my opinion, throughout the culture of Purina. Of course, Purina is just one of several big companies that own many, many different brands. Most of these big companies buy up smaller brands to own marketshare, but keep the brands on the shelf in order to create the illusion of choice in the marketplace.

The marketing of all of these substandard feeds has been so successful that many cat caregivers actually believe that they're feeding their cats great food by buying these brands. All it takes is a picture of a happy cat on the package alongside images of human food and most consumers are convinced that their choice is a good one. Unfortunately, despite the pictures of real food on the outside, what's inside those packages is still animal feed because it's more profitable.

Regardless of what you think of the meat and dairy industries, you must acknowledge that meat producers are only interested in getting cattle to live long enough to be slaughtered for processing. That's a very different agenda from us cat lovers who want our feline friends to live happily for as long as they can.

I have no doubt that the pet food industry will continue their profitable practices as long as consumers keep buying. Every time you spend a dollar, you're casting a vote, and when you spend on these substandard feeds, you're voting for this garbage and harming your pet at the same time.

If you'd like to learn how to choose better nutrition for your pet, check out the excellent resources at the following links:

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/best-cat-food-and-treats

http://www.naturalcatcareblog.com/2010/12/the-7-best-natural-commercial-cat-foods-so-far/

https://catinfo.org/

http://truthaboutpetfood.com/

Wishing you and your feline friends all the best!

Emergency Evacuation Kit for Cats

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Most of us suffer from "it won't happen to me" syndrome. You hear it on every TV news report. "I never imagined this would happen here" or "He was such a nice cat who kept to himself." Okay, well maybe not that last one, but you get the point. After seeing wildfires jumping freeways in LA, tornadoes ripping their way across Tennessee, and hurricanes blasting Florida beaches, we're here to tell you that you're better off being prepared.

Below is the Kitty Help Desk evacuation kit - everything we think you'll need in the event you need to bug out quickly with your feline friends. We recommend that you get a plastic storage bin and have this kit ready to go at a moment's notice. You'll be glad that you did.

  • Food & Water - It may go without saying, but you need to make sure you pack at least two weeks' worth of food and water along with some stainless steel bowls. Make sure the food doesn't expire by rotating the portions you keep in your kit every few months.

  • Medications - Whatever medications you normally administer to your cats, you need to make sure you pack a two week supply in your kit. Check it frequently to make sure it doesn't expire before you use it.

  • Litter & Litter Box - While there are some small, collapsible travel litter boxes out there, we recommend bringing along a duplicate of your cat's favorite box along with the usual litter. Change will not be welcomed in the midst of the chaos of an evacuation, so anything that reminds a cat of home will be helpful in maintaining their sanity and your own. Also, don't forget a litter scoop, paper towels, and some small trash bags.

  • Carriers - You need one carrier per cat. Soft sided carriers work well and collapse so you can store them easily. Even cardboard carriers will do in a pinch.

  • Harness & Leash - This is optional, but it can be a godsend if you need to let a crying cat out of his or her carrier for a bit just to visit the litter box or blow off steam. Do harness training now and reap the rewards later.

  • Familiar Smells - Cats love their home territory and they generally dislike leaving it. Bring a little bit of home with you when you bug out by including a blanket that has familiar scents. This probably wouldn't get packed in advance, but would be something you'd grab at the last minute.

  • Nail Clippers - No matter what's going on out in the world, those cat nails will continue to grow. Make sure you're prepared to keep them trimmed.

  • Brush - All daily brushing rituals should continue. They will help to calm your cats and they'll remove excess hair that could result in hairballs.

  • Scratching Surface - Cats have to scratch in order to shed their nail sheaths. Make it easier on them (and the furniture wherever you're staying) by providing a solution. Corrugated cardboard scratchers work very well and are portable.

  • Vaccination Records - In the event you need to see a new veterinarian or have to seek refuge in an emergency shelter, you may need to provide vaccination records. Make sure you have paperwork showing your pets' most recent vaccinations and/or titers.

  • Printed Pictures - Sometimes a new situation will frighten a cat and the worst will happen - he or she will escape. Be prepared with a couple of printed pictures of your feline friends that you can show around in the event they get lost.

  • ID - Make sure every cat has a collar with a current phone number. We recommend Safe Cat collars with embroidered names and numbers. You may also want to make sure your cats are microchipped and that your own ID info is up to date.

  • Emergency Contacts - In this day of smart phones, most of us can hardly remember our own phone numbers, let alone someone else's. Be sure to print out phone numbers for your veterinarian and any other folks you might need when your phone battery dies.

These are just some ideas to get you started. You know your feline friends better than anyone. Think about what might comfort them, and you, if you had to leave your home unexpectedly. Make plans now so that when an emergency happens you don't have to cover all your bases at once. There's often a very short lead time for evacuation orders. Be ready!

Feline Personalities

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Whether you're choosing a new cat companion from the local rescue or introducing a new cat to others in your home, it can help to have a basic understanding of feline personality types. While every cat is unique, they do tend to fall into categories based on their valiance level (AKA courage) and their desire for social interaction with humans and other cats.

The ASPCA has a program that they call Feline-ality which categorizes cats into nine personality types. We've never seen a clearer, more accurate, or more helpful version of this. The program was developed to help rescues match cats with new adopters, but it can also help you to understand your cats and their interactions.

There's also a very good web page that explains their nine feline-ality types in a way that anyone can understand: ASPCA FELINEALITY PROGRAM. Be sure to check out the downloadable "poster" at the bottom of the page.

We don't always agree with the things the ASPCA chooses to do, but the Feline-ality program is a real winner!

Cat Charity Recommendations

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'Tis the season of giving once again, and many of our favorite charitable organizations are finding themselves cash poor this year. We can all help if we even give a small amount out of our holiday budgets in place of one or two gifts that we all know no one wants or needs. In our household, we buy very few gifts and the bulk of our holiday budget goes to the charities listed below.

By no means is our list an exhaustive one. It's just a list of major cat and animal charities that we've vetted and have found to be conscientious in their use of donations. If you have a favorite charity that you don't see listed here, feel free to contact us through our Facebook page and tell us about it. We may include it when we revise the list.

You may also want to consult a web site like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator to draw your own conclusions. Just be aware that those sites don't always show the entire picture. 

Now, on to the list!


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Our favorite feral cat charity is Alley Cat Allies. They've proven themselves to be tireless defenders of feral cats and the community caregivers who help them to survive. They've been instrumental in helping to forge new laws that protect ferals from the inevitable hatred that is bred by misunderstandings of how community cats can be controlled, and they educate the public about the use of Trap Neuter Return instead of euthanization.


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Our favorite special needs cat charity is Blind Cat Rescue Sanctuary. Located in North Carolina, BCR doesn't put it's feline friends up for adoption, but instead houses them and cares for them as long as they live. Blind cats are quite capable, but caregivers often need special training in order to understand their unique needs. BCR helps cat lovers to understand these needs and also serves as a reference for blind cats that are available for adoption throughout the US.


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Our favorite nature charity is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. While it isn't a cat charity, Sea Shepherd's work impacts us all--even cats. They police the world's oceans to stop illegal fishing, pollution, and other activities that endanger ocean ecosystems. As SSCS founder Paul Watson is fond of saying, "If the oceans die, we die." Ocean conservation is on the front line of ecological conservation for all animals.


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We feel very strongly that each of these charitable organizations is worthy of your donations, but we would be remiss if we didn't tell you to begin by looking for a small rescue in your own backyard to support. Local rescues like Tiny Kittens or Stray Cat Alliance often receive very little in the way of donations, so your money can have a greater impact. Over the holidays, watch for matching challenges that can even double your donation for these needy groups!

The Economics of Pet Products

I go to the local Petco store from time to time just to check out what's on the shelves. And do you know what I find on almost every aisle? Misdirection, misrepresentation, and sometimes outright deception. Most of the products in the cat care aisles are simply not appropriate for cats. When a well-intentioned person buys one of these products, they may be disappointed that their cat doesn't take to it at all. Or the product may help to create behavior issues that the cat will be blamed for.

Is this Petco's fault? No. Petco is a retailer. Their job is to stock the pet supplies that people want and to sell them in an attractive and convenient way. The marketing spin and poor product designs come from the companies who produce many of the products stocked there, and at Petsmart, Amazon, Chewy, Pet Food Direct, etc. The responsibility for what's stocked is ultimately in your hands and mine.

As I walk down the aisles of cat products I see many (MANY) products that simply are more appropriate for humans than they are for cats. For example, cats don't like hooded litter boxes but there are a dozen different versions of them here at Petco. Why? Because cats have no wallets. We've basically trained our pet supply vendors and retailers to appeal to us instead of to our cats and it's time we retrained them.

If you know anything about working with animals, even human animals, you know that it's much easier to train than to re-train, but that's exactly what we have to do. Every dollar we spend on pet supplies should be a conscious choice. Think, "Is this what my feline friend would choose?" or "Will this appeal to my cat's instincts?" instead of "Oooo, isn't that cute?" or "That package sure is pretty." Marketing experts have many people in the palm of their hands. We have to step back and think about our choices and how they'll affect the well-being of our cats. We need to see the products, not the packaging. Imagine them in our homes and imagine how our cats will truly respond.

Yes, that means retraining ourselves first and foremost to view pet supplies from the perspective of our furry friends. Then we need to convince other, less cat-savvy individuals to do the same. If we can do so, slowly, but surely, we'll see pet supply stores carry better and more species-appropriate products. Better for us and better for our cats. We just have to lead the way.

When Shouldn't You Adopt a Cat?

Sometimes a cat is better off not being adopted.  Does that sound crazy to you?  Well, consider this:  Most cats aren't given adequate veterinary care by their caregivers.  Cats under the age of 10 should visit the vet at least once a year for a checkup.  Cats over 10 should go every six months.  And yet, most cat caregivers let the health of their feline friends slide.

These are some of the most popular reasons given by well-intentioned people, and our usual responses:

  • My cat hates it.
    • We all need things that we don't like.  Even cats.  Your cat won't hate you afterwards, but she could live in pain or die without good medical treatment.
  • I can't afford it.
    • A cat can't pay the veterinarian by herself.  She needs your help.  If you don't have the resources to provide adequate care, you shouldn't adopt.
  • My cat seems okay.
    • Cats are excellent at hiding their pain.  It's a survival instinct.  No cat wants you to know that they're sick or injured.  You need regular veterinary visits to make sure they're okay.
  • My vet charges too much.
    • There are a large variety of veterinary practices out there.  Yes, some are very expensive, but many are reasonable.  We know a good vet in Los Angeles who only charges $35 for an office visit.  There are also mobile clinics in larger metro areas that charge even less.  Do your homework.  Observe your feline friend closely and make notes about any behavior changes before bringing your cat in to save time.
    • If you can't afford reasonable veterinary care for your cat, you shouldn't have adopted.  If you have to give him up to get him the care he needs, then do so.  It sounds harsh,. but your cat's life may hang in the balance.
  • My vet's not good with cats.
    • We hear this one from time to time and it's puzzling.  We shouldn't require that our veterinarians love our cats.  We can handle that part.  We need them to provide adequate diagnostic and medical care.  If they have a gruff demeanor after a day spent dealing with difficult pet "parents", cut them some slack.  A veterinary hospital isn't a kitty day spa.
    • If your vet is truly behind the times with diagnosing cat problems, you have two choices.  1. Find another vet.  2. Help them by doing your own research into issues.  This can be a mine field online, but books like Anitra Frazier's The Natural Cat can certainly be good resources.

These are excuses, not reasons.  If you agree to adopt a cat, you also agree to look out for that cat's well being.  That includes regular vet visits and necessary medical care should the need arise.  If you don't have the resources to cover the costs of these needs, you really should not adopt a cat.  Doing so would be selfish!

The Hazards of Being a TV Cat

There are lots of famous cats, from Morris to Grumpy Cat, and they all have one thing in common - they have no desire to be famous.  They're in the public eye because their human wants them to be famous or make money off them, or both.  This is wrong for a number of reasons, but the worst is that it compromises the well-being of the cat.

I live in Los Angeles, and I've worked on a large number of big budget film and television shoots.  Everything from Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean to Alias and My Wife & Kids.  What they all have in common is extremely high-pressure environments and a serious lack of time.  If you add an animal into the mix, your exacerbate those problems.  Now the animal is expected to perform on cue for grumpy, impatient people who just want to finish the day and go home.  This isn't a situation where an animal will be well-treated.  In fact, despite the claims of the American Humane Association, most animals on set are treated quite badly.  They're transported in cramped conditions, moved into spaces they don't know and can't understand, and then expected to perform on cue.

Cats are especially susceptible to becoming distressed in this sort of situation, unlike dogs who might even thrive there.  Cats are highly territorial.  When taken to an area that lacks familiarity and their scent markings, they can become agitated.  Just how agitated really depends on the individual cat.  Some cope with change better than others, such as Maine Coons, but almost all cats dislike new places the first time they're taken there.  Regardless of personality, their reactions are either to hide from the world or to explore an area that is extremely unsafe for animals.

By the way, "American Humane Association" (AHA) and "The Humane Society of the United States" (HSUS) are different organizations.  The AHA film & TV unit makes a significant amount of money from Hollywood productions that want to have their projects certified.  Despite the AHA film tagline, "No animal was harmed", it seems that a number of animals have been harmed under the AHA's watch.  In 2001, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on the AHA film & TV unit that stated, "the group has been slow to criticize cases of animal mistreatment, yet quick to defend the big-budget studios it is supposed to police."  The article also cites specific incidents where animals were injured or killed on set with no repercussions from the AHA.  (read the entire article here)  The most recent accusations revolve around animal deaths on the set of The Hobbit

Thankfully, CGI animals are becoming more prevalent in today's productions.  I applaud the use of CGI as long as the animals portrayed aren't harmed.  Sadly, dramatizing the violent death or mistreatment of a CGI animal can give some psychotic individuals the wrong idea.

You may be asking what you can do.  Well, the first thing is to stop supporting productions that use live animals in this way.  A film that uses cats is no different that a circus that uses elephants.  Just don't buy a ticket.  If you see an online video where a cat is frightened or tormented, note your disgust in the comments.  We have to make the general public aware that animals are sentient beings and that we won't tolerate their mistreatment for human profit or pleasure.

Supplies for Your New Cat

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Many people have asked us what they should purchase prior to bringing their new cat friend home from the rescue.  Well, some of that depends on your specific cat, but we'll give you some general guidelines to get you started.  Some things you'll have considered already, of course, but we'll try and guide you towards the right items so you don't have to purchase things more than once.

Just be prepared to learn as you go.  Like people, cats can have unique personality traits.  Many will have definite preferences in everything from food bowls to sleeping spots.  It's your job to pay attention and read all the messages your cat is sending.  If you're perceptive, you'll soon know all of your little friend's likes and dislikes and you'll have a better chance of buying things he or she will love.

We're going to give you the overall shopping list here, and then break the list down into individual posts with more specific suggestions and the rationale behind them.  Ready?  Let's go!

Shopping List (click each item to see more)