Help, My Cat is Pooping on the Floor!

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Luna will be two years old in October and has never had any litter problems. We got a puppy last week. She is obviously upset. I’ve tried to let them interact at her pace. Of course, the puppy is all over her. For the last three days, Luna has been pooping on the dining room floor once a day. I’m sure it’s stress related, but I’m not sure what to do about it. Thanks so much!
— Karen R.

Karen, the issue is one of security. Luna clearly feels threatened by the puppy. To a cat, a new dog in their territory is a bit of a conundrum. Even if the dog isn't physically threatening, he could still be seen as a territorial intruder. The whole house was Luna's domain and now there's this smelly, excited being in her space. Imagine that you went to work one day only to come home to a slob who introduced herself as your new roommate. She hardly ever bathes so she smells bad, eats stinky food, and absolutely wants to spend every waking minute with you, touching you and talking to you nonstop. How would you feel?

When a cat is middening (pooping outside the box to mark territory), she's sending a very serious message about her feelings of distress. Luna's basically trying to make herself feel more secure in her territory. Cats are usually fastidious about covering their poop because they don't want predators to pick up their scent. When a cat poops out in the open on purpose, it's basically a last resort.

There are several things you can do to help Luna.

1. You need to be the police officer who decides how much contact the dog gets to have with Luna. If you see the puppy overstepping boundaries with Luna, you need to step in gently and reassure Luna while placing yourself between her and the puppy. Show her that you're on her side. Training the puppy to sit and wait are good ways to have him stand down when he's becoming too aggressive in his play. To dogs, this is just good fun, but to cats it can be overwhelming. It's especially bad when a dog doesn't pick up on the subtle signals cats send out telling them to stop.

2. You need to provide Luna with a safe zone that she can access but the puppy cannot. A tall cat tree can serve this purpose well, especially if it has enclosures where Luna can hide if she wants to. You want to think about the vertical space in your home and see if you can arrange things so that Luna can access tops of bookcases and other furniture that the puppy can't get to. This is all to provide Luna with an escape route and a vantage point if the puppy gets too physical for her comfort.

3. Never scold Luna for middening. Cats react poorly to negative reinforcement across the board. Praise her when you see her using her litter box.

4. Make sure the puppy isn't intruding on Luna when she's using her litter box. Sometimes dogs like to eat cat poop and will eagerly intrude on a cat doing her business. This would be enough to drive any cat mad. If possible, put the litter box in an area that the puppy can't access. A toddler security gate can help if Luna will jump over it and the dog can't.

5. Make special time to spend just with Luna each day to reinforce her place in the household. Make sure she gets her fair share of lap time and play time exclusively with you.

6. Be sure to clean the area where she poops with a good enzymatic cleaner. With regular household cleaners, she will still be able to smell her poop on the floor after you've cleaned it. That will reinforce her desire to continue to mark that same area.

Cats and dogs can co-habitate fairly well but sometimes they never overcome bad introductions. It isn't a relationship where you can just put them together and hope for the best. Worst case scenario would be to separate them completely and reintroduce them more slowly. Good luck!

Help, My Cat Has Mouth Ulcers!

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Lip ulcers are a common malady among humans that also occur in cats. But how do you treat them safely?

Miss Kitty has lip ulcers that usually occur in the summer months. They go away after I apply a steroid cream on her ear flap and give her Orbax, an antibiotic. Is there anything natural I could use? Maybe a cream for her lip?
— Kathy C.

Kathy, mouth ulcers are relatively rare in cats, so there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to the problem by veterinary researchers. Treatment usually depends on the causes, which can range from viruses to dental disease.

The first thing you can do is to keep Miss Kitty's teeth clean. Regular brushing with a feline toothpaste and cleanings by your veterinarian can help. If the condition becomes extreme, some vets even go so far as to recommend removing the teeth in order to get this problem under control. Thankfully, it doesn't sound like Miss Kitty is at that point just yet.

The steroid that you're using now basically suppresses the body's immune response in order to minimize the ulceration. We’re not fans of long term steroid use. Take a look at cleaning up Miss Kitty's diet. You need to make sure she's eating whole foods with few additives. Ingredients like fish, meat by-products, wheat gluten, and corn starch are all no-nos that can contribute to the presence of ulcerations as the body is trying to get rid of toxins. Take a look at our food recommendations here.

You can also help Miss Kitty by reducing stress in her environment. That includes making sure she has safe places to retreat to where she won’t be bothered (not even by you) as well as cleaning spots ourside where “intruder” cats have marked Miss Kitty’s territory. She can smell it even if you don’t and those scent markers can certainly stress her out. A good enzymatic cleaner will help. If you’re not sure whether or not a neighboring cat has been scent marking your home, you can check at night with a black light flashlight. The spray shows up as a bright neon in the black light.

One other thing you can do to help de-stress Miss Kitty is to remove potential irritants like fleas and other parasites. You can see our flea control recommendations here.

 
 

There are a couple of supplements you can add to Miss Kitty's diet which may help. Of course, you'll want to discuss these with your vet. We recommend the addition of an omega-3 fatty acid to Miss Kitty’s diet in the form of fish oil. The best product is a krill oil spray from Mercola Pets. It can be purchased from the Amazon link above but it may be available at a lower price directly from Mercola Pets.

 
 

If the Mercola product is a little too expensive, a good alternative is fish oil from Deley Naturals.

 
 

We've also seen great results from adding an edible clay to the diet. To use this, simply add 1/8 teaspoon of Terramin edible clay to Miss Kitty’s diet daily. It's available at health food stores and also at Amazon.

Good luck, Kathy, and thank you for taking the time to look for alternatives to steroids. If you can manage Miss Kitty's symptoms without them, she'll live a longer and happier life!


Help, My Kitten Won't Sleep Through the Night!

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My kitten is three months old and she wakes at 4AM and eats my hair, hits me in the face, and scratches and nibbles my face and hands. I try to ignore her but she just carries on. I have started taking her to the living room and shutting the door which she seems fine with, no scratching or meowing. My question is, is it okay to shut her in the living room when I go to bed or will she be on her own too long? Any other suggest welcome!
— Lisa C.

Lisa, most cats engage in this sort of behavior, but its especially prevalent in kittens. In most cases, they simply have a hyper kinetic rhythm and need contact like they'd have with their mom or siblings just before dawn. The easiest method of dealing with this is to adopt a second kitten. Two kittens are actually easier to care for than one, but there are also expenses to consider. Honestly, two kittens are much better for their own health and mental well being long term if you can afford it.

You're doing the right thing in ignoring Maisie. If you get up or interact with her in any way, she's training you, not the other way around. We encourage you to stick it out even though that can be difficult. If you need a break, we understand. Yes, she'll be fine in the other room alone, but she'll bond more closely to you if she's allowed to sleep with you. If you choose to put her out of the bedroom at night, it's imperative that she has her pick of warm comfy places to sleep. This is also where that second kitten can come in handy.

You see, the bed is the scent center of the household to cats. It's the one place that smells most like you. Maisie will feel very comfortable there. Excluding her from the bedroom at night can send a message that she isn't a part of the family. Of course, a lot depends on the individual cat. Some cats need more contact than others. Some will prefer to sleep in other rooms or near windows during summer months, but dive right back into the bed at the first hint of a chilly evening.

You can help to minimize the early morning “wake up and play with me” behavior by creating a nighttime routine for Maisie. A cat's natural rhythm in life is hunt-eat-sleep. You can use this to get her to sleep when you're ready. 30-60 minutes before bedtime, give Maisie an intense play session. Really work her out and get her running around the room for at least 20-30 minutes. Then feed her a big meal - as much as she can eat. When she's done, tell her it's time for bed and go through your evening routine. By the time you develop this into a daily routine, you should see Maisie begin to anticipate what will happen next. She may even prompt you to do what she expects. When she gets in bed to sleep, she should fall asleep after the play and feeding. That doesn't insure she'll sleep through the night, but it's a good start. Also remember to put away all of Maisie's toys before bedtime.

If you can afford it, you can also get her her own bed or blanket. The softer the better. You want something that feels like Maisie's mother's belly. She may find comfort in kneading her paws against it and give you a break. She may not use it at first, but don't get discouraged. Give her some time to be curious about it. Cats love to make choices and most rotate their sleeping locations frequently.

Of course, she's a kitten so she's going to wake you up during the night sometimes. Even adults do this sometimes, but you can minimize the behavior by following the steps I've outlined. Good luck!


Will Water Additives Help Keep My Cat's Teeth Clean?

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Now that many cats are living into their twenties, their dental care is more important than ever. Most cats struggle with daily or even weekly brushing, so many cat caregivers look for alternatives. Anthony writes:

We got both our cats a full dental cleaning last month. I was talking with my sister (formerly a vet tech) about preventative options and she mentioned something you can add to their water that helps with dental health. Do you know anything about that? Does it work?

Anthony, we’re happy to hear that you got your cats' teeth cleaned. There are still many people who neglect to provide adequate dental care for their cats, so kudos to you!

We've checked out some of the products similar to what your sister mentioned and our evaluation is that they have limited efficacy and could even be harmful. The first product like this that we checked out was made by Nutri-Vet. The directions say to add one capful of their product for every eight ounces of water in your cat’s water bowl or fountain, to be changed daily.

Some of the dental rinses on the market today

Some of the dental rinses on the market today

Our first concern is with the concentration of the product’s suggested use. The tiny amount you add to your cat’s water and the small amounts of water a cat drinks in a day mean that it's unlikely that the “effective ingredients” would get into their mouths to begin with. And what does get into their mouths wouldn’t be swished around their teeth and gums, it would be swallowed. That also raises some concerns.

While the text from the site where we purchased this product claimed that there were no added sweeteners, we can clearly see that the third ingredient is sorbitol - a sugar alcohol used in low calorie products to sweeten them. Not only is sorbitol of questionable safety for cats, it would be worthless as a sweetener since cats lack the ability to taste sweet foods. So why include it? Because Nutri Vet labels the exact same product for use with dogs. The ingredients lists are identical. It’s likely that no one at Nutri Vet even evaluated this product’s safety or effectiveness on cats. They just relabeled it in the quest to make more money.

The ingredients list from Nutri Vet Breath Fresh Dental Rinse

The ingredients list from Nutri Vet Breath Fresh Dental Rinse

We also have concerns about some of the other ingredients on their list, but we just need one major concern to choose not to recommend a product like this. If there are other similar products out there that would fare better under scrutiny, we’ve yet to find them. Yes, there are others that don’t include sorbitol, but all of the ones we’ve seen contain something a cat is better off not ingesting.

Many of these products use stabilized chlorine dioxide as their primary “effective ingredient”. So-called stabilized chlorine dioxide is not actually stabilized at all. In fact, it should be listed as sodium chlorite, but then the manufacturer would be forced to provide information on the ingredient’s concentration level. In addition, this chemical isn’t really useful as an antiseptic and it has no business being in your cat’s mouth or digestive tract. There are human versions of these dental rinses that include the same ingredient and they’ve been shown to be less than effective. If interested, you can read about their assessment here.

Some of these products use chlorhexidine gluconate or cetylpyridinium chloride in place of the sodium chlorite. These are more useful as anti-bacterials but they’re still all but useless at the concentration levels suggested. And yes, these products also contain sorbitol as well because they’re packaged for both cats and dogs. It should also be mentioned that these chemicals were designed for human use where the person spits out the product after rinsing. They aren’t recommended to be ingested in more than minuscule quantities, which may be one of the reasons why such tiny amounts are used for cats and dogs.

There are tons of these products on the market and we place every single one of them into the wish fulfillment category. Most pet lovers would like a simple solution for their pet’s dental health issues. Since there are no real shortcuts, businesses create some to pretend to fill the very real need. Many people will buy these types of products and use them even if they aren’t effective because it’s almost impossible to determine whether or not they’re working. They’ll happily purchase and use these products and give them positive reviews when, in fact, there is no observable benefit to them. This creates an anecdotal mythology around the entire class of products that can take on a life of its own in forum posts and even among vet techs. When challenged about their use, most people will defend their stance because that’s just what humans do, even when given proof that the products simply do not work.

Your best bet is to brush your cat’s teeth with an enzymatic toothpaste if they'll tolerate it and provide annual cleanings. Examine your cat’s teeth as much as they’ll let you and talk to your veterinarian if you notice redness, whiteness or anything other than healthy pink gum tissue.

We wish you and your kitties all the best!


Help, My Son's Afraid of Our Cat!

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While most of the questions we’re asked are about cat behavior, sometimes we get a question about humans. In this case, a child’s reaction to the family’s new kitten. Kristen S. writes:

I just rescued a seven week old, beautiful male kitten that was trapped in a fence. Luca is now an amazing, affectionate, trusting little kitten. He loves and trusts me so much but I have a 12 year old son who is nervous about him. How can I help my son to like Luca. He sees the kitten bite and scratch me but I try to let him know he’s a baby and doesn’t know better and is just playing. I also let him know it doesn’t hurt. I really want my two babies to love each other

Kristen, our expertise is with cats, not children, but the general training concepts are the same. :) Children are not logical. You can't always reason with them. They learn by association, so you have to associate good things with the kitten. This method is often used in cases with fearful children much more fearful than your son. There's a good overview at the following link: https://www.tagteach.com/What_is_TAGteach . 

Here's a video that illustrates tag teaching with a child who was deathly afraid of the water. Each time he achieved the tag point the teacher gave him, he was rewarded with an immediate click followed by a Skittles candy. The timing of the click is the critical point of reinforcement.

It doesn't have to be a click. It could be the word "good" stated in the same tone each time, but it needs to be an audible reinforcement that indicates that the child has done what was asked of him or her correctly.

I know this sounds a bit odd. It's a teaching method most people only think of using with animals (referred to as “clicker training”), but it works with people too. Try asking your son to pet Luca while he's on your lap. Make it casual. If he so much as touches the kitten, say "good" and offer him a candy from a bowl he can't reach unless you offer. He'll have no idea that you're training him but he'll slowly begin to associate success and joy with the kitten.

The second thing is to begin conditioning Luca to not bite and scratch you. When playing with him, redirect any aggressive tendencies toward his toys and away from your hands. Many people train their kittens to think of their hands as toys. It's cute, right? Well, it turns out to not be so cute when they're full grown and biting your hand because you've basically taught them it's okay. Then they become confused because what was once acceptable is now creating a negative reaction. Begin now and all three of you will have a much happier time together.