Cat Care

How Do I Get My Kittens to Use the Litter Box?

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Most kittens immediately take to using a litter box and don’t need any training to do so. But what about those who don’t get it right away?

I have six kittens who are five weeks old. The majority of the kitties have litter box trained, but I still have a couple that will just eliminate in the corner. Do you have any suggestions for training? We have cleaned with lemon scented Pine Sol and are trying double stick tape in the corners, but they still go beside the tape.
— Jan L.

Not to be too alarmist about it, Jan, but you must immediately stop using Pine Sol around the cats. Most people just don't realize how EXTREMELY dangerous it is to them. Lysol is equally dangerous. Both products have names that end in "sol" because they contain phenols that can kill cats. Kittens are especially at risk because of their small size.

The best product to use to clean litter box messes is an enzymatic cleaner. Use anything else and the cats will still be able to smell their pee and poop quite easily. Even through heavily scented cleaners. We’ve used the Simple Solution product pictured below, but most any reputable fragrance free enzymatic cleaner will work.

 
 

That said, there are several ways to help the kittens find their way. First, clean up after them with the enzymatic cleaner I mentioned above. Then place the litter box where they want to go anyway. Make sure it's in a location that doesn't have any surprising sounds (like an air conditioner suddenly turning on) and where there isn't a lot of traffic.

There are several things to try in order to help them want to use the litter box:

  1. There should be several boxes for the little ones to use. Even at their young age, some will not use a box with more than a few "deposits".

  2. The box should have low enough sides to allow them to get in and out easily.

  3. Some high-sided or covered boxes can scare cats and make them feel trapped. Automated and covered boxes are generally not a good idea for any cats, but especially for kittens.

  4. Make sure the litter box is as far as it can be from where the kittens eat.

  5. You may want to try some different types of litter. Litter with larger pieces (we like Purina's Yesterday's News) are great for kittens because the kittens can't eat it, but some kittens don't like the large pieces. Clumping litter can be hazardous to kittens if ingested. Plain clay litter is fine if they won't accept the chunky stuff.

  6. Be positive! Never scold a kitten for making a litter box mistake. Praise them and treat them if they so much as go near the litter box. Help them to see that the litter box is a great place to be! Some kittens we've worked with have learned to love it a bit too much. We have one who still comes running to watch us scoop. :) It can take time for some individuals to learn their way, especially if their mother isn't around. It's up to you to be patient with them and help them learn.

  7. As a last resort, you can use a litter box attractant. These products entice the little ones with scent, but it really should be a last resort. Give them a chance to learn without this crutch first, or they may grow to expect it.

Thank you for looking after these babies! With your help, I'm sure they'll be using the litter box in no time!

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 Cat's Not Sleeping Enough!

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Cats are usually most active around dawn and dusk while sleeping the rest of the day. This means that the majority of adult cats sleep between 16 and 20 hours per day. But what if your feline friend sleeps less than that? Meg H. writes:

About three months ago, we adopted a one year old calico female, Mimi, from a shelter. She is an absolute delight. We are wondering why she just doesn’t sleep much. We are retired, home most of the time, and are realizing her sleep is about seven to nine hours total each day. My husband has insomnia so he only sleeps about five hours a night. If we assume she sleeps those five hours, and add the two to four hours she gets during the day, it doesn’t seem like enough. She is in good health otherwise, but a tad overweight. She gets lots of exercise and stimulation, but we also give her uninterrupted down time. Mimi and my husband are extremely close. Is his insomnia somehow affecting her?

Meg, it does sound like Mimi isn't sleeping enough, but it's difficult to know what might be going on with her. Our first suggestion in a case like this is to have her thoroughly checked by a good veterinarian - someone who will be your partner in figuring out what's going on with her even though there may not be much to go on. While it’s possible that she could be experiencing some sort of pain which is keeping her up, it isn’t the most likely scenario. Once she has a clean bill of health, you can move on to behavioral and environmental factors.

Most cats sleep more in the winter months than in the summer. They also like it when the household adheres to a clear and predictable schedule. The trick with Mimi may be to establish a regular schedule and then leave it to her to adjust once you've ruled out larger issues. Cats are highly adaptable and three months really isn't enough time for her to settle in completely. Just make sure you schedule some lap time for her in the evening while you watch TV or are on the computer. 

You also want to spend 15-30 minutes each evening playing with her before bedtime. A cat's natural rhythm is to hunt, eat, and sleep. If you mimic that series of events before bedtime by playing vigorously and then feeding her just before bed, she should sleep better and longer. It will also be good to develop some signals for her to know where she is in the daily routine. Telling her, "time to play" or "time to sleep" will help her to know what to expect next. Cats generally love schedules and respond well to them.

The schedule is also where your husband's insomnia could be having an effect. Cats are curious creatures because their survival depends on it. If they hear a rustle, they'd better go explore it because it might be the only prey they find that day. When your husband gets up and moves about the house during the night, it's a safe bet that Mimi becomes curious and wants to know what he’s doing. Since this doesn't happen on a particular schedule, it could definitely make her uneasy and unwilling to sleep until she knows that he’s settled. Being active can be very distracting to her.

Overall, I don't think you need to worry too much about her not getting enough sleep. As she settles into your household and feels her ownership of her territory, she'll naturally relax more. We wish you and Mimi all the best!


How to Maximize a Small Living Space for Cats

Indoor-only cats can become bored with their surroundings if those surroundings aren’t enriched in some way. Cats are naturally curious and they thrive on novelty as long as it’s not too overwhelming. So what do you do if your living space is especially small?

Molly H. writes:

Otis, Isis, and I are in a tiny studio (like, really tiny). They’re both indoor cats. Do you have any suggestions for keeping a cat entertained in the confines of a small apartment?

Molly, cats are highly adaptable. Most will make do with the area they have available. But to thrive, they might need a helping hand. The first thing to do is to evaluate the vertical space in your apartment. Can the cats get up to high places? We humans tend to think in two-dimensional space, or square footage, but most cats love to get up high and survey their territory. It makes them feel more secure.

 
 

You can maximize vertical space by adding at least one tall cat tree with multiple lounging levels. This doesn’t have to take up a ton of square footage. This floor-to-ceiling cat tree takes up very little real estate while giving maximum vertical space. It isn’t the most durable cat tree out there. In fact, it can be a little wobbly, but it has one of the smallest footprints available and its also inexpensive. We’ve had several of these over the years and our only issue was with the coverings getting shredded by one of our heavy scratchers.

 
 

If you can afford the space (and the price) this cat tree is recommended. It’s a lot more durable, but it also takes up more space.

Once you have a cat tree, position it so that the cats can use it as a ladder to other high spaces like the tops of bookcases or other furniture.

Other environmental enrichment possibilities include making windows available to the cats at all times. Window space can become a prime resource in a small place so you want to make sure there are lounging areas by all the windows and that the cats have access to them 24/7. If you feel exposed having window coverings open all the time, just put up a baffle of some sort that the cats can go behind. This can be as simple as propping one end of the blinds open so the cats can get to the window but no one can see inside.

Another suggestion is boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. not all at once, but whenever you have a box or a paper bag from a purchase, share those with the cats and let them explore the new sights and smells in those items. Keep them around a few days and then recycle them and exchange them for newer ones. A cat’s world is largely made up of scents and every new item will tell them a story of sorts. When you come home, don’t forget to let them smell your hands and learn about where you’ve been!

 
 

If your cats will tolerate a harness, going outdoors on a leash may be helpful. It really depends on where you live. If there’s lots of traffic noise outside, many indoor cats will be too frightened to enjoy the experience, but it’s worth a try if you’re in a quiet neighborhood. Just take it slowly, allowing the cats to smell the harness and then to wear it for brief periods inside your home. If they get comfortable with that, you can try taking them out on a leash one at a time. Just be aware that this may expose them to parasites, so you’ll need to have a good flea treatment plan in place first, if you don’t already.

 
 
 
 

Finally, every cat needs premium playtime every single day. With two cats, it’s easier because they will probably play with one another, but they still need time with you. Schedule a couple of regular play times every day during which you use interactive toys. Wand toys are great and we’ve had good luck with all of the Yeowww catnip toys.

We hope this helps, Molly. All our best to you and Otis and Isis!


Do Cats Have Baby Teeth?

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Biologically, cats are very different from humans, but they’re also very similar in a number of ways. Nicole L. writes:

I have two little five month old boys named Boba and Lando, and I found a little bloody baby tooth in Boba’s fur that I *think* came from Lando while playing but it is hard to check his mouth and know for sure. I think this is an age-appropriate milestone, my question is do they need any aftercare when losing teeth? Anything I should look for? Neither boy shows any discomfort.

Thank you for your question! Cats develop their first set of teeth when they’re around four weeks old. These teeth are relatively fragile, being smaller and less dense than adult teeth. They help to promote weaning since they irritate the mother during feeding. Then, around four to seven months of age, kittens begin losing their baby teeth as their adult teeth develop. The roots are often absorbed while the crowns fall out , but they can be so small that humans don’t even see them. It sounds like Boba and Lando are right on schedule. 

There isn't much you need to do. If you notice either of them rubbing their faces with a paw, you may want to put some crushed ice in a washcloth for them to chew on. It'll be a bit messy, but the cold will soothe their gums if they're bothering them. You should also make sure you're feeding them a pate-style wet food. All cats should be on wet-food diets, but it's especially important during teething. If they feel pain when they eat, they may connect the pain with the food and avoid eating altogether.

 
 

This is also a good time to get the kittens used to having their teeth brushed. A small, soft-bristle brush designed for cats along with a high-quality toothpaste or gel will help them to get many years of use out of their new adult teeth. We especially like Oxy-Fresh gel. Check with your vet for their recommendations.

It goes without saying, but Boba and Lando shouldn't be allowed to make any deals with Darth Vader for the time being. :)