Cat Products

Scratching Post Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Cats need places to sharpen their claws.  If you don't provide an attractive scratching surface, they'll make do with your upholstery, drapes, bedding, or whatever else they can find to get the job done.  That's not to say that scratching things is malicious behavior.  It isn't.  But you must understand that cats HAVE to scratch.  It not only helps them to remove the outer sheath of each claw, it's also an exercise that allows them to stretch their muscles.

If possible, you should have multiple scratching posts and they should be of the sort that's attractive to your cat.  How will you know what your cat likes?  The best scratching post is the one your cat uses.  While cats do differ somewhat in their preferences, here are a few guidelines that almost never fail.

The most important consideration is the scratching surface.  In the wild, cats scratch on trees, so make that the example you have in mind when you shop for a scratching post.  Its outer surface  should be coarse and rough like tree bark.  Carpet will sometimes do if it's a tough, outdoor, berber style floor covering, but soft surfaces aren't attractive to most cats.  A natural sisal wrap is great, as are corrugated cardboard scratchers.

If you can afford it, a tall cat tree with multiple scratching posts is the bee's knees to most cats.  Not only does it satisfy their need to scratch but it also gives them a perch from which they can safely survey their domain.  Cats need to be given access to vertical space, so these kinds of cat trees can help with that as well.

 
 

The second most important consideration is the height of the post.  It needs to be tall enough for your cat to fully extend her body while reaching toward the top of the post.  That usually means a post that's at least twice as high as your cat's shoulder height.  The taller the better.

Next, you need to make sure that the scratcher is secure.  If your cat goes to town on it and it moves suddenly, he may never trust it again.  It needs to be as solid as you can make it, meaning it needs a relatively large base.  It's also helpful if it's made in such a way that your cat has to stand on the base while scratching.

 
 

Corrugated cardboard scratchers have several benefits. They're affordable, they last a long time, and they're recyclable. But best of all, most cats LOVE them. We prefer the sort that sits flat on the floor so that a cat who's using it will actually hold it down with their body weight.

 
 

Most cats take to a scratching post quickly while others need encouragement.  You can help by placing the post in a central location.  One per room is also a good idea, especially for the rooms your kitty likes best.  Rubbing the surface with catnip helps with those cats who love the herb, and treats can woo some reluctant felines.  While it may sound silly, showing your cat how to use the post can also help.  Kittens are taught by example and adult cats can be too.

Cat Grooming Product Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Most cats do an excellent job of keeping themselves clean.  However, they also tend to ingest a good bit of their own fur when doing so.  This can create hairballs in their digestive tract that either end up as life-threatening obstructions or juicy lumps on the floor.  One way to help alleviate hairballs is a daily brushing.  This is particularly important for long-haired cats.

The brush you choose depends on your individual cat.  A short-haired cat will do just fine with just about any stiff-bristled pet brush.  You don't want a brush that's too soft because it won't pick up loose hairs.  We've also been unimpressed with "slicker" brushes--the ones with the wire bristles that have little plastic knobs on the ends.

 
 

If you find you need to remove more loose hair than the regular brush is handling, your best bet is the Furminator.  No, that's not the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie!  The Furminator is a metal comb/brush with sharp blades that work wonders.  They really do remove lots of extra hair than normal brushes leave behind.  For most cats, the Furminator treatment is only necessary during the warmer months when they're shedding.

 
 

The other must-have product is a nail clipper.  You'll see lots of fancy clippers at the pet store, but all you really need are a pair of scissor-style clippers.  Guillotine-style clippers are expensive but they really don't do a better job.  If you have larger fingers, you may need to shop around for a pair of clippers that suit you because the finger holes can be rather small.

 
 

This isn't a post about how to groom your cat, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a few helpful hints.  Be gentle when grooming.  Cats can easily be overstimulated and learn to dislike the process.  A treat at the end of the session never hurts.

Cat nails aren't at all like human fingernails.  It can be very easy to cut too far and cause pain and bleeding.  If in doubt, just clip the tip!  You never want to clip into the pink center of the claw.

Cat Food & Treat Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Food Choices

The most important thing your cat needs is healthy food. There's a lot of debate over which commercial foods are the best. The one thing that's hardly ever debated is the fact that all cats do better on a wet food diet. Simply avoiding dry kibble gets you halfway to the finish line!  

Raw food diets are also becoming more popular because they more closely emulate what a cat would eat in the wild. Our highest recommendation goes to raw foods. There are several good frozen raw foods that make this easier than it may seem at first glance. Our top recommendation goes to RadCat frozen foods.

There are also a good number of freeze-dried raw diets on the market. Despite what these may say on their labels, it's important that they be rehydrated prior to feeding them to your cat. It's a simple process. Just measure out the amount you intend to feed and add fresh water. You can crush the nuggets for a pâté texture or leave the nuggets intact for cats that prefer that. Primal Freeze-dried Nuggets are our number one choice in this category.

 
 

Of course, you can also mix up your own raw diet with meat you purchase from the grocery store.  Just know that the meat alone doesn't include sufficient nutrition. You need to add a feline supplement like Wysong's Call of the Wild powder. The Amazon listing refers to this as a supplement for dogs, but rest assured that it's designed for cats as well.

 
 

Our next category is high-quality, canned food. Avoid those brands that you see on the shelves at the grocer, and even most of the ones that the big pet supply stores stock. You'll need to examine the ingredients as thoroughly as you would for your own food. The main ingredients should all be clearly listed as meat (not meat by-products) and any non-meat ingredients should be far down the list.

Our number one canned food recommendation is Ziwi Peak. It's almost as good for your cat as a raw diet. Unfortunately, it's made in New Zealand and that adds to the cost for those of us who don't live down under.

 
 

A close second in the canned category is Nature's Variety Instinct line of canned foods. By far, our favorite, and our cats' favorite too, is their chicken formula, which is used in both their Ultimate Protein and the regular Instinct line. That's right, Nature's Variety confirmed to us that both foods are exactly the same recipe with different labels and that they should be priced the same. The first four ingredients are chicken, turkey, chicken liver, and chicken broth. This food has the advantage of being available in both 3.5 oz. and 5.5 oz. sizes, unlike Ziwi Peak. It's also widely available at a reasonable price.

 
 

You'll soon learn that many pet food manufacturers have clever ways of spinning the cheap ingredients they use as fillers. Many cat foods have "grain free" on their labels, but still include large amounts of other non-grain fillers like potatoes. I seriously doubt that any sane cat would ever do anything more than play with a potato, so why is it included in their food? It's included because it's cheap! The more wary you are of these deceptive practices, the better choices you can make for the cats who're depending on you.

Many cats love fish flavors but they would rarely eat fish in the wild. The fishy flavor can be so strong that it spoils a cat for any other foods. In addition, many cats develop allergies to fish proteins. In our opinion, it's best to avoid fish ingredients altogether. Be sure to check with your veterinarian to find out what their suggestions are for your cat.

If you'd like to dig deeper into what's best for your obligate carnivore, check out CATINFO.org, an amazing cat food information resource created by Dr. Lisa Pierson, DVM. Another excellent resource is from the Cat Care Blog's list of Today's Best Cat Foods. They've studied a lot of the commercially available foods on the market and present their results for all to see. While these aren't comprehensive resources (no resource ever is), they can certainly give you a good head start when it comes to choosing foods for your feline.

Treats

Don't forget to pick up some healthy treats! These can be useful as a training tool as well as a great way to get your new roommate up and about at playtime. Choose something that's as close to 100% meat as possible. We particularly like the freeze-dried meat treats made by PureBites, and our cats do too!

 
 

Also included in the treats category is catnip and cat grass. Cats normally consume this kind of roughage in the wild, so it's perfectly safe for them, however it is possible to overdo it. When choosing catnip products, try to find the ones that are 100% organic. We recommend Meowijuana products. Yes, you read that right. Meowijuana produces some of the best catnip products around!

Litter Box & Litter Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

LITTER BOXES

Cats can be just as finicky about their litter boxes as they can be about their food.  The most important thing is that they choose to use it.  Pick a box that's open on all sides, and is easy for your cat to get in and out of.  Covered litter boxes appeal top humans but not so much to cats.  Most cats prefer a simple box with more than one way out.  The larger, the better.  

If your new friend is a kitten, you may need to use a small cardboard box until they get bigger.  The boxes that cases of canned food come in will do and you can just recycle them and replace them when they get soiled.  

When your cat's big enough, you'll want a large, plastic box for ease of cleaning.  Don't fall for the automated robot versions.  The general rule is to add one to the number of cats you have in order to determine the number of litter boxes you need.  Two cats?  Three boxes.  Three cats?  Four boxes, etc.  You'll also want to make sure that the litter boxes are far away from your cat's feeding area.  Privacy isn't a big deal for cats.  Not soiling where you eat, is.

Our current favorite litter box is from Arm and Hammer.  It's available in several sizes but our cats prefer the jumbo version.  It's easy to clean and easy to climb in and out of.  Win-win.

 
 

If you have a senior kitty or any cat with mobility issues, you need to get creative. Since humans don't like having little scattered around, very few manufacturers make litter boxes with low sides, but that's exactly what your cat may need in order to gain access easily. You can use any low-sided Rubbermaid-style box. You can even cut down the opening of an existing litter pan if you like.

The best readily available products we've found so far have been dog training trays like the one below. The screen and post can be removed leaving a very nice, inexpensive tray with easy access.

 
 

A litter box with a low opening will produce more mess if your cat's a litter kicker, but we feel that it's worth it to help our seniors have less stress associated with their litter box habits. Less stress equals fewer litter box avoidance issues and that's a good thing for everyone.

Cat Litter

The bottom line is to buy what your cat likes and will actually use.  Cats are naturally attracted to sandy materials, so a grainy litter often works best.  Avoid artificial products and those that are scented.  Use 3"-4" of litter depending on the material used.  If you use non-absorbent litter, shallower is better as you'll need to replace it more frequently.

We recommend corn-based cat litter that clumps but doesn't contain silica and other dangerous clumping agents that can wreak havoc with kitty's digestive tract.  Your cats will ingest a certain amount of the litter that clings to their paws, so it's important that it be safe for them to pass.  Corn litters are even safe for septic systems, unlike the silica-based clumpers.  One favorite is called the World's Best Cat Litter, and many would say it lives up to its name.

 
 

If your cats are used to the silica litters. you may find them resistant to change.  Try switching to a regular clay litter.  At least it won't be gunking up their insides!

Whichever litter you choose, you'll want to clear the box of waste at least twice a day, and do a thorough cleaning, replacing all the litter at least once a month.  Depending on the litter product you choose, you may need to clean more frequently.  Avoid the litter box liners that are supposed to help with these chores.  In our experience, the plastic liners usually get shredded by cats long before they're useful.

Oh, and don't forget a scoop.  Any will do, but you'll probably be better off with a larger scoop that has holes just big enough for the granules of your litter of choice to slip through.

Does your cat have a preferred litter or litter box?  Please leave a comment and tell us about it!

Cat Toy Recommendations

We continue our series of recommendations for new cat owners.  See the entire new cat shopping list here.

Most cats not only like to play, they need to play.  Cats have to hunt daily in order to feel happy.  Hunting is not only an enjoyable activity for them--it's one of the main reasons for their existence in nature.  They're predators, so they'll feel happiest if they have the opportunity to hunt at dawn and dusk just like they would in nature.  The best cat toys emulate the process of stalking and hunting prey.

What's interesting is how some cats seem to be predisposed to want to hunt a particular kind of prey.  Some are more interested in birds while others find rodents most appealing.  There will be a bit of trial and error on your way to finding the toys that trip your particular kitty's triggers.

Among the best toys are those that cost nothing.  Believe it or not, many cats find a small wad of paper much more compelling that just about any store-bought toy.  Using a fresh piece of note paper each time insures that it's good and crinkly and smells new.  Paper has the advantage of being lightweight and of flying away when batted.

Boxes fall into this category too.  Cats just LOVE boxes.  All boxes.  Even the ones they can't fit inside.  Sometimes those are the most compelling to little felines!  If you order something that comes in a box, you get the free bonus of a new cat toy!  Before you give it to your cat, make sure there are no stringy tape bits or loose labels that could be eaten.  Then just put it down and watch the magic begin!

High on the store-bought list is Da Bird.  Yes, the name is silly, but for most cats, the appeal is incredible.  We worry a bit about where the manufacturer might be sourcing their feathers, but there's no denying the attraction of these feather propellers.

 
 

You'll also want to get a good wand toy and learn how to use it.  Just about any toy can become interesting to your cat if it acts like prey.  Any toy can become boring if it just sits there or repeats the same motion over and over.  It has to move unpredictably!  Wand toys like this Cat Dancer product make that easy because of the way they flick about.  Try it!

 
 

Last, but not least, you may find that your particular feline has the fetch gene.  Yes, some cats are adept at playing fetch.  We've known cats who would play fetch for hours on end if their humans didn't tire of the game.  In order to satisfy a fetchy feline, we recommend a toy that's lightweight and easy to pick up.  Our current favorites are these Looney Loops.  We've yet to find a fetching cat who could resist them.

 
 

An honorable mention should definitely go to all those catnip toys out there, but be careful.  Not all catnip toys are created equal.  We found that some items manufactured by the company PETSTAGES contained the smallest sprinkling of catnip in a filling made mostly of fiberfill.  The brand we recommend is Yeoww!  Everything they make is of a high quality but our cats particularly like the Stinkies.  They're filled with nothing but catnip and we've yet to see a kitty pierce the tough fabric exterior of these toys. 

 
 

There are also some common "toys" that should never be made available to cats.  This list includes, yarn, rubber bands, yarn, hair bands, string, yarn, shoelaces, and any number of other small, swallowable items.  Did we mention YARN?  People probably link cats with yarn because cats will play with any stringy item.  The trouble is that they shouldn't.  The barbs on a cat's tongue make it very easy for these items to get hooked and swallowed, and once swallowed they can kill your kitty by blocking their intestinal tract.  At the very least, you're in for some pricey vet visits.