Cat Grooming

My Cat Won't Use a Scratching Post

 This is Lucy. :)

This is Lucy. :)

When cats get busy scratching nice furniture, their humans can sometimes get upset. We usually recommend placing scratching posts near every spot they like to scratch the furniture. But what if they simply don't see the post as a viable place to scratch? Deborah A. writes:

Lucy is about 10 months old. We adopted her from a local animal shelter. She was a rescue from Hurricane Harvey. She has been a joy for my husband and myself, but she will not use any cat scratcher. We have tried four. She is not interested in catnip. Any suggestions are welcome.

Deborah, it can sometimes be difficult to find a scratcher material that certain cats are attracted to. Usually, the rougher the material, the better. In the wild, most cats use trees for this activity and they like trees with heavy, convoluted bark.

We've had the best luck with sisal scratchers, but cats can sometimes become fixated on very particular materials. We had an experience with one cat who would ignore every scratcher in favor of anything made of leather because that was what she'd first experienced in her original caregiver's home.

Our advice is to think outside the box. Bring in a piece of firewood with heavy bark. You might even nail it to a wooden base. There are wooden cat posts, of course, but until you find the material that Lucy responds to, why waste your money? Try berber carpet scraps wrapped around the wood if the wood alone doesn't work. Unfortunately, it's a bit of trial and error, but often the commercially available scratcher materials don't trigger the cat's scratching instinct.

You can also use the scratcher to scratch your own nails when Lucy is around. Ham it up and show her how good it feels. She may look at you like you've lost your mind but she may also copy your actions. Yes, it might feel silly, but some cats learn best by example. We've all heard the term "copycat", right? 

Be sure to keep Lucy's nails trimmed. If she isn't using a scratching post, this can be even more important than it normally would be. Scratching serves several purposes for cats, including shedding old nail sheaths to reveal new, razor-sharp claws underneath. You've probably seen the cast-off nails around your house.

As to the catnip, it's not uncommon for cats to ignore it. An estimated 30-50% of all felines lack the gene for the positive response to catnip. If Lucy doesn't care for it, that's okay. You can have her favorite treats on hand to reward her every time she approaches or sniffs her scratcher. Positive reinforcement works as long as you're consistent with it.

We hope these tips help, Deborah. All our best wishes to you and Lucy!

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!

Flea Control for Cats

Fleas are one of the most successful parasites on Earth, so they're a problem in many temperate climates. With over 2,500 species, it's no surprise than many of them want to feed on our feline friends. Dex P. writes:

Which flea & tick medicine do you think is best? There are so many out there. I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Thank you!

Dex, we don't particularly care for any of the commercially available topical flea treatments because the chemicals used often have side effects, some of which can be disastrous for individual cats. There's just no way to know who will have a reaction and who won't.

THE ORGANIC APPROACH

We recommend trying a more organic approach first. If that doesn't work, you can always try more conventional attacks. Organic flea control is best achieved when the little nasties are attacked on multiple fronts.

First, you should make sure all the cats are healthy and are being fed a species-appropriate diet. Given a choice, fleas will be drawn to the least healthy hosts. See our top food recommendations here.

 
 

Next, use a flea comb to go through your cats' fur on a regular basis. To be most effective, slowly run the comb through their fur and then dip it into a glass of soapy water to clear it. If you find fleas, they'll end up in the water which you can then flush away.

 
 

You'll also need to address your entire home. Most experts estimate that only 10% of an infested home's flea population lives on pets. Fleas exist in three forms - as adults, larvae, and eggs. The adults will mostly be on your cat but the larvae and eggs can be anywhere. You'll need to vacuum your home at least once a week, focusing on your cat's hangouts and carpeted areas. Empty the vacuum into a bag and take it directly to the trash. You may not even see the eggs and larvae, but you'll be ridding your home of them with every vacuuming.

 
 

Finally, use a deterrent product like food grade diatomaceous earth directly on your entryways and under baseboards. We used to recommend dusting your cat's fur as well, but there is some risk from breathing the dust from DE. It's perfectly safe when it's settled.

Dex, we're confident that the organic approach can be just as effective as the chemical bombardment method in particular situations. However, it does take diligence and it works best before a major infestation takes place.

THE ORAL DRUG APPROACH

If you try the organic approach and find it isn't as effective as you'd like (believe us - we've been there), we recommend moving to an oral flea control medicine. We discourage the use of "spot-on" products as they've been shown to cause more harm than good for some felines. All of our suggestions in this section are based on our experience. You should always speak to a qualified veterinarian prior to administering ANY medication to your feline friends. 

It's best to start with the least harmful treatment, and in our opinion, that is Lufenuron. Lufenuron is birth control for fleas. It doesn't kill adult fleas, but will render them incapable of hatching viable offspring. It's administered orally in liquid form that must be given with food in order to be effective. It binds to fat molecules in the body so that fleas get a good dose every time they bite your cat. You have to choose the dosage based on your cat's weight in order to render an effective flea treatment. Be aware that Lufenuron can take as long as 30 days to become completely effective. During that time, you will need to continue the organic methods of combing and vacuuming. The original name for Lufenuron treatments was Program, but Program is no longer being made. Instead, Lufenuron can be obtained quite inexpensively from the fine folks at LittleCityDogs.com. Their Lufenuron treatments come in powdered form in small capsules. You can open each capsule and mix it with your cat's food or you can administer it as a pill. Whichever is easier.

You can also kill the adults through the use of an adult flea killer like Nitenpyram, AKA Capstar. Nitenpyram is a pill that is given orally and which kills 99% of the adult fleas currently biting a cat. It's effective for 24-48 hours, so it's a good choice if you're bringing a new cat into a flea-free home. It does have some side effects and can stimulate some cats in much the same way that nicotine effects humans. It's claimed to be safe for use over  and over again, but it's our opinion that it's best used as a one-shot, kill-em-all approach along with a longer-term treatment like Lufenuron.

The next step up the ladder in effectiveness is Spinosad, AKA Comfortis. This is a pill that is adminstered orally and which begins working within hours to kill both adult fleas and their eggs. Each pill renders 30 days worth of effectiveness against fleas. Unlike the previous drugs mentioned, Spinosad requires a prescription in the US.

CONCLUSION

Dex, we know how frustrating it can be for both you and your cats. Since your felines are allowed outside, we expect your final solution to be Spinosad tablets. If we can coax you to make your kitties, indoor-only cats, any of the methods outlined above can be effective, depending on the climate where you are. We wish you and your cats all the best!

Should I brush My Cat's Teeth?

Dental treatments for companion animals are becoming more and more common. Marsha F. writes:

How important is it to brush my cats teeth?

Marsha, it can be very important. In the wild, cats rarely have issues because, on average, they only live for three to five years. Living in our homes, cats can live more than 20 years so there's a greater likelihood of dental issues. Of course, just like humans, genetics can play a major role. Some have a greater predisposition to problems than others.

Diet also has a tremendous effect on dental health. The myth that dry food helps clean teeth is just that - a myth. In fact, dry food and treats can actually cause more problems than wet food (Think of how Cheetos get stuck in your own teeth). Cats who eat a raw diet tend to have much healthier teeth and gums because they're getting better, more complete nutrition.

The big issue with brushing is whether or not your feline friend will tolerate it. If they're trained early to accept your fingers along their gums, they'll usually accept brushing. If they have difficulty with it, we suggest you begin by using a soft hair brush along the sides of their mouths since most cats really enjoy that. Once they've accepted the hair brush, introduce them to a plain toothbrush. We like the finger brushes as opposed to the long-handled brushes because you know exactly where the brush is in the cat's mouth.

You don't have to use toothpaste, though brushing is more effective with it. Never use human toothpaste, though. Gently brush the outside of the teeth along the gum line where tartar is most likely to form. If your patient becomes restless, offer a treat and let them go on their way. You can always do a little bit at a time over several days. Whatever you do, don't force it. You want your cat to associate brushing with positive feelings.

As to veterinary dental care, be aware that some of the corporate veterinary chains use dental treatments as a new way to make extra money. While a cat will benefit from an occasional cleaning, the anesthesia can be risky for some individuals. It's up to you and a veterinarian you trust to determine whether or not the risk is worth the benefit. 

How to Trim the Nails of a "Difficult" Cat

Some cats are more sensitive to being handled than others. If you work with them as kittens, you can certainly help them to overcome this sensitivity, but what about those adult cats that react negatively to any handling? Candy H. writes:

Cali is a very mean indoor cat who desperately needs her nails trimmed. The vet won’t trim them unless she is sedated and I have to administer the sedation. Do you have any suggestions on how to do that without getting torn up from biting and scratches? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Candy, we have a good general post about trimming nails here. You also want to make sure Cali has access to a good, rough-surfaced scratching post. It's important to note that if Cali's nail tips are digging into her paw pads, she may be experiencing a great deal of pain when her paws are handled. That would make anyone feel angry!

There are several ways to approach Cali's particular problem. The one most commonly mentioned is the burrito method. To restrain the cat, you basically roll them up in a towel like a burrito, leaving their paws exposed. This doesn't always work if the cat bites or if the hind legs aren't tucked in comfortably due to the cat struggling against you. Usually, it's safe to leave a cat's rear nails untrimmed unless there is obvious overgrowth. 

A better method is the sleeping method, though many scoff when it's mentioned. If Cali is relaxed and in deep sleep, she will probably allow you to handle her paws. This is especially easy if the cat will sleep on your lap. Many times, they'll allow lots of handling before they awaken and realize what's going on. Using this method, you could easily do a couple of nails at a time at home.

One other method that works for some cats is the distraction method. You place a little bit of a sticky treat onto the end of the nose. This can be enough of a distraction that the cat forgets about the nail trimming that's going on. We like to use mayonnaise. :)

Be cautious about labeling Cali as "mean". Cat's aren't really capable of being mean, in that they don't act out against others for no reason. Thinking of Cali as "mean" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. She can pick up on the nervousness of those who feel she is a mean cat and react to that energy in a negative way.

If Cali hasn't been well socialized and doesn't like humans very much, that's a behavioral issue that can be addressed. Getting her used to being handled would be the next step. Both can be achieved but will require a great amount of patience and, to be honest, the commitment of a good bit of time to the issue.

Here's a good post about why a cat may seem to be a bully.

We certainly wish you and Cali all the best!