Should I Give My Cat a Bath?

Cats are usually meticulously clean. In fact, their saliva contains lysozyme, lactoferrin and nitric oxide that act as inhibitors to bacterial growth. Cindy C. writes:

I plan on bathing a long-hair cat named Sassifrass. Could you give me some shampoo recommendations please? Is conditioner necessary? She has a LOT of floof!

Cindy, it's fairly common for cat caregivers to think that their feline friends might need a bath. This is especially true when the cat, like Sassifrass, has long hair. But we recommend that cats not be bathed at all.

First off, cats do a very good job of cleaning themselves. Even long haired cats can handle the task with great aplomb. The only time a cat should need a bath is if they've gotten into something terrible that we don't want them licking off or if they are very old and no longer have the flexibility to reach every spot on their bodies. In the course of a normal day to day life, a cat like Sassi should be fully capable of bathing herself.

The following video was posted by a very caring lady who helps her elderly cat get clean. If you must bathe your cat, this is the way we recommend you do it:

The second concern is for the health of Sassifrass. If her coat is in much need of maintenance, the problem may not be one of cleaning but rather one of nutrition. The better the nourishment a cat receives, the healthier, shinier, and cleaner her coat will be without intervention from us humans. Cats need high-protein, low-carb diets like the ones we outline in THIS POST. We recommend you feed the best food you can afford.

One thing you can do to see immediate results is to brush and "furminate" Sassi every day. We even do this to our short haired cats and we've seen a great increase in the luster of their coats. Begin with a short brushing session with a soft brush, followed by a few minutes with a furminator-style cutting brush. This "brush" has hard metal teeth, so you have to be very gentle with it so as not to hurt Sassifrass. If she dislikes the grooming, make the initial sessions very short and begin and end each session with her favorite treat. Slowly lengthen the sessions until you're able to get her fully groomed in one or two. Don't worry about her belly, though, as contact there is usually a trigger for prey behavior and she won't appreciate it. 

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the harm that bathing Sassi could do to your relationship with her. Cats don't look at us as their masters. They see us as equals and we should give them the same latitude to make their own choices when we can. Grooming behaviors are a complex part of the feline world and cats like feeling self-sufficient when it comes to these sorts of chores. They use these times to mingle our scents with their own in order to create a communal scent that means "home" to them. Using a smelly product that washes all that away can be very stressful to a cat. In fact, we know of one instance where a cat was bathed and her siblings hissed and growled at her because they didn't recognize her without the communal scent. It's VERY important that Sassi be allowed to tend to her own bathing needs.

I'm sure that you can tame the floof without any shampoos or conditioners. Sassifrass will certainly appreciate it! We wish both of you all the best!

Should I bring My Cat to College?

Increasing numbers of universities are allowing students to bring pets to school with them. But should those policies include cats? Christine R. writes:

My daughter, Mazy, is going off to college for the first time and she wants to bring her tom cat, Specks, with her. I don’t think it’s a very good idea. We agreed to ask you and to go by whatever you say. Should Specks go off with Mazy to get educated? :)

Christine and Mazy, every situation is different, as is every cat, but generally speaking, we're against temporarily transplanting a cat unless it's absolutely necessary. We can hear Mazy whining already, so allow us to outline our reasoning.

Cats are very territory-centric. They are more comforted by their own territory with their own scents than they are even by those of us who feed, pamper and adore them. Relocating a cat isn't a trivial change for them. In fact, it can be quite distressing. It can take a cat a very long time to adjust to such a move. That's a big deal because it will happen again and again at each and every break from school. We see no need to put a cat through all of that stress if you don't have to.

Cats also prefer being on a regular schedule. What happens when Mazy goes on a rafting trip one weekend, and a football trip the next and back home the next. What about when you audition for a big play or end up in the computer lab every night before a big project is due? Who will care for Specks during those times, and will he be well cared for? No offense, Mazy, but college students aren't always the most reliable people. They have a lot on their minds. A cat needs to be a priority, not an afterthought.

There are also some unique dangers associated with campus life. We won't be too graphic, but where there are drunken frat boys, there are potential dangers to everyone! Specks may not have as much fun being there for you as you think he will.

One thing you should definitely do is to leave things with your scent on them at home whenever you visit. A pair of sweatpants or an old t-shirt left in one of Specks' prime sleeping spots will comfort him in your absence. Yes, he'll miss you when you're gone, but he'll still be happier at home. And he'll thoroughly enjoy your visits, even if he sometimes pretends not to. That's just how cats are. They don't like change, but Specks will always be your special friend.

Mazy, going off to college is about growing up, and a big part of growing up is learning to put others needs before your own sometimes. Think about what's best for Specks and we think you'll conclude, as we have, that he'll be better off at home with your mom. We wish you all the best in your college career!

 

Help, I Found Some Abandoned Kittens!

The world is filled with cats who haven't been spayed or neutered. Some are feral and others are pets. In both cases, mothers can sometimes go missing just when the kittens need them the most. Margaret M. writes:

I found a nest with four kittens in it underneath a shed in our backyard. I didn’t approach them yet, but the kittens are crying and I’ve not been able to find the mother. What should I do?

Margaret, it's important that you confirm whether or not the kittens' mother is still around before you relocate her litter. You can interact with them (your scent will not cause the mother to reject them) and even tend to them but don't move them if you suspect the mother is still around.

Some rescuers will put the kittens into a box that they can't get out of and then scatter flour around the box. If you leave the box for a few hours and come back to find paw prints in the flour, the mother is probably still tending to her babies. Also note the cleanliness of the kittens. Mother cats take care of cleaning their kittens, so the longer they're away, the dirtier the kittens will be.

If you discover that the mother is still around, your best bet is to try and help her to provide for her little ones. You can make an inexpensive shelter like this one and provide food and water without interfering with the family. Once the kittens have been weaned at 4-6 weeks of age, they can be socialized and adopted. Of course, the sooner the socialization takes place, the better. If the mother is friendly, it may be possible to relocate the family and socialize the kittens even earlier.

If you determine that the kittens have indeed been abandoned, it's time to take action. The first thing the babies will need is warmth. A plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a towel will do in a pinch.

Newborn kittens need constant care. Most shelters won't take them because they simply don't have the resources needed to turn them into adoptable cats. Even if they do take them in, the kittens will probably be euthanized. If you have the time and resources, please, by all means, do what you can to save the kittens' lives. If not, you'll need to try and locate a local rescue that does and get them there as soon as possible.

If you decide to care for them yourself, there are plenty of good online resources. Caring for newborn kittens is quite an undertaking, so we usually refer people to the best resource we know: THE KITTEN LADY. She's been rescuing kittens for years and has kindly provided a wealth of information about all aspects of newborn care on her wonderful web site. All the information you might need is there for the taking, including links to product sources and very specific instructions on kitten care.

Last but not least, please see to it that the kittens and their mother are all spayed or neutered, even if you choose to allow them to remain feral. This includes following up with adopters if the kittens are adopted out before they're old enough to have surgery. 

We certainly thank you for being concerned about these little lives, Margaret. We wish you and the kittens all the best!

Help, My Cat is Bored!

Cats like routine, but even they can get bored with the same old thing every day, just like us. Suzie E. writes:

Sally is 14 years old and I think she is regularly bored. Not all the time, but once every couple of days she meows for attention and I try to get her to be a bit active. She is not interested in chasing things or batting at things. We live in a tiny NYC apartment, of which she knows every inch. We sleep in a loft 8 feet off the ground, so she gets that bit of exercise of climbing up and down the ladder at least once a day. She has many nests/places of her own.

She is not overweight although she is a bit heavier than she was most of her life. My vet is more concerned that she not lose weight rather than gain it.

I’ve quit buying her toys. I did get her a thingee into which I put treats she then has to fish out of it, and I toss treats for her to chase, only she lately just saunters after them. I put them around on the furniture for her to climb, but that’s about all she pays attention to.

I had another cat, Spike, till two years ago and he was much more active and pounced on her & all, but with him gone she’s on her own. Of course I have thought of getting another cat to keep Sally company.

I really feel I’ve tried everything, so don’t feel bad if there’s nothing more to suggest! At least I’ll know I did everything I could. Thanks so much for your time and consideration!

Suzie, it really can be a challenge to try and keep an older cat active and entertained. The key is enrichment. It helps if you can find creative ways to mix up Sally's environment and give her new areas to explore. This can be easier, and cheaper, than it sounds. A new box with holes cut in the side or a paper bag from the market can help. It's not only the new "place" - it's also the new smells that come along with it. Even making a play fort from a blanket over a couple of chairs can change things up enough to make them interesting for Sally.

When you come home, be sure to let Sally smell your hands if she's at all interested. The scents left on your hands from your day tell a story and most cats very much enjoy the new scents from the outside world. Think about ways that you can share the smells you bring into the apartment with Sally.

 
 

We also leave soft music on all day for our cats. We had one who was over-grooming and that stopped when we started playing music. Our cats are very fond of the music of Bradley Joseph. His works include soft instrumental music along with some voices and even bird sounds. We play them on our Amazon Echo because the tracks are free with our Prime membership. We put them on loop when we leave and turn them off when we return.

 
 

We've also had great luck adding plants and bird feeders outside a prominent window where our cats like to sun themselves. Potted plants that attract bees and bird feeders that attract birds and squirrels can be very stimulating for cats.

 
 

None of this addresses activity, of course, at least not directly. When cats are more stimulated by their environment, we've found that they become more interested in playing. The way you play can affect their interest as well. The toy should behave like prey and usually it's better if the toy is moving away from the cat, not toward them. Many cats respond well to the "Da Bird" wand toy but some don't. Each cat has a bit of pre-programmed preference for a particular kind of prey. If Sally doesn't have the "I eat birds" gene, she won't be interested in feathers, but she might like stuffed toys. It takes some trial and error to determine.

 
 

If Sally will accept a harness, you could also take her outside of the apartment for brief exploratory sessions. cats enjoy exploring and, even though she will probably go about it very slowly, she would probably enjoy it.

Of course, many cats simply slow down as they get older. At 14, Sally certainly has that prerogative, but her boredom can surely be an issue. 

As to bringing a new cat friend in for Sally, it usually doesn't work well for cats above the age of four. We won't say it can't work because it can, but it's risky. Older cats rarely take to young, energetic upstarts.

We hope these suggestions help. It certainly can be a challenge. I'd love to hear back from you if you find something that works for Sally.

My Cat Won't Use the Litter Box

Many cats develop litter box issues. In most cases, it's either a security or a medical issue. Deanna H. writes:

I adopted Loki from the pound about a month ago. She gets along for the most part. I also have a small dog. But my issue is that she has been urinating and defecating outside her litter box. She will use the box but not all the time. All I know about her history is that her previous owner moved out and abandoned her.

Deanna, if you haven't taken Loki to a veterinarian for a checkup yet, it might be a good time to make sure she's okay and has no problems with incontinence. Once she's gotten a clean bill of health, it's time to address her security issues.

Most cats have a period of adjustment after being adopted. In most cases, the worse their experiences with humans was before, the longer that adjustment period will be. Coming into a new home, especially one with a dog, can be very stressful. The more stress a cat feels, the more likely she is to have litter box issues.

The first thing to address is the litter box. If it's enclosed (has a lid) you want to remove the lid. Cats don't like feeling that they could be trapped where they're doing their business. They want to know there are multiple routes for escape. While your dog may be very friendly to Loki, she may still see him or her as a potential threat. 

You also want to make sure that it's easy for Loki to get in and out of the litter box. Some cats have issues with high-sided boxes. You also want to avoid the new motorized contraptions that self-clean. The noise and unpredictable movement of the mechanism can be very scary.

The positioning of the box is also a big deal. You don't want to put it in a noisy or high-traffic area but it needs to be easily accessible. If you put it in a dark corner of the basement, it may be too far away from the area Loki perceives to be her territory. Even when you can't smell the litter box, Loki can and its smell reinforces her claim on her territory. If she thinks that the area is challenged at all, even by you or your dog, she may avoid it. Cats are extremely sensitive to territorial disputes and most will do anything to avoid conflict, including not using the litter box. If it's possible for you to place the box somewhere where your dog can't get to it, that will be best.

You may want to address the kind of litter you're using but if she's using it part of the time, she must be recognizing it. Most cats prefer sandy, soft grains to some of the newer pellets and chunkier textures.

The fact of going outside the litter box actually introduces additional stress to the situation because Loki would rather go in a place where she can cover her waste and feel good about it. One thing you can do is to treat her when you notice she HAS used the litter box. Don't hover - no cat likes to be watched - but if you hear her scratching around in her box, a treat is in order.

Overall, the trick is to make her feel happy and safe in her new home. Make sure she has plenty of high spaces to climb to - most cats feel safest up high - and make sure she has at least one spot where no one, not even you and especially not your dog, can reach her. Don't pressure her or punish her when she goes outside the box. Punishment doesn't work with cats, so no harsh voices. Only kindness and understanding will solve this issue, and you've already illustrated both by reaching out about this. Thank you!

We've had some similar questions in the past. I'll include links to those answers below in case something there is helpful as well.

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cat-urinating-on-bed

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/link-between-urination-and-security

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/helping-your-cat-feel-secure

It may take a little bit of trial and error to figure out just what's bothering Loki, but I feel sure you can sort it out as long as you address it kindly from Loki's perspective. We wish you both all the best!