Cat Behaviour: March 2009 Archives

pictures_cats_litter.jpgIn our discussion of litter boxes and why cats pee outside the box, we've touched on litter box size, litter box odor and number of litter boxes as possible causes. And just as important as cleaning, size and number of litter boxes, is what you put inside the litter box. Today's discussion is about types of litter.

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The regular clay litter is the cheapest and most plentiful on the market. I mean you can get a huge bag that takes two people to carry for under $5.00. That's a plus, cheap litter at a time when most people are trying to save some money. But there are some disadvantages that may make Kitty not want to use the regular clay.

The clay produces a lot of dust, which can be harmful if inhaled, by you and your cat, and the dust tracks through the house on little paws. Often the clay contains additives like antibacterial agents and perfumes - which seem like a good idea, but your cat is very sensitive to smells so perfumes aren't the answer. And the clay gets really heavy when wet, so it can be hard to clean out the box.

Another problem is that many communities require that litter be put into the garbage, so it goes to landfills. Fortunately some communities are catching on and have included kitty litter in their community composting program - either they pick it up or you drop it off and it gets composted. But again, that's a lot of weight to be lugging around.

Clumping cats litters contain Bentonite which is highly absorbable and forms into clumps that can be removed when you remove the solid waste. Clumping clay really reduces odor and is often used in multi cat houses. But sodium bentonite can cause illnesses, especially gastrointestinal blockages and respiratory illnesses.

pictures_cats_litter_types.jpgThe bentonite clay can absorb up to 12 times it's weight in fluid which means that if kitty cleans his paws after using the litter box, he is eating some of clay and it can absorb liquids in his system and cause a blockage in his intestinal tract. The same can happen in his lungs if he breathes it in, it can block his air ways. Kittens are especially at risk but consult with your vet.

In both cases, clay can be economical but you end up using a lot of it to keep your cat happy and your litter box odor free. So in the end, that huge bag of litter may not be worth it, after you factor in your gas, time and effects on the environment. The health risks are also a little worrisome. Using a product that can harm your cat if swallowed, doesn't seem like a good choice.

If you are considering making a change or if you have a kitten I would consider a green product like world's best cat litter or President's Choice Green Twice as Absorbent Clumping Cat litter that's made from corn so it's natural, long lasting, safe, clumping, and is odor free and dust free. Oh and it can be flushed down the toilet. (more on that tomorrow)

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pictures_cats_dirty_litter_box.jpgImagine you are out for the day, someplace nice, someplace that you like to be...visualize the place... is it a shopping mall or an amusement park, a movie theatre... a public pool, a nice park or at the zoo? Ok, get a clear picture in your mind of a really nice, fun place to be. Got it? Ok. Now let me ask you a question.

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How would you feel if the bathroom to this really nice place was smelly, had toilet paper strewn all over the place, no running water and someone urinated on the floor? How would it make you feel to have to walk through the urine with your bare feet? How would you feel if you couldn't wash properly after?

Pretty disgusting image isn't it? I've been in my fair share of scuzzy bathrooms. Some of them, I've just turned right around and 'held it' until I could get to a clean bathroom. And other times, when I had no choice but to use the facilities, I've felt like I needed a shower after just walking in there, let alone getting half naked to do my business. Ok maybe this is too much information.. but you get the idea. I swear there have been times when I considered peeing in a bush somewhere instead of using the bathroom.

So now, imagine what it's like for your cat whose sense of smell is 4x more sensitive than a human's. If you think it smells bad, just imagine what it must smell like for Kitty!

And to make matters worse, imagine what it must be like to have to walk in there, dig around in dirty litter then cover it up. Then you have to lick your paws clean? That's what it's like for your cat to use a litter box that isn't kept clean.

Another issue with smelly, dirty litter boxes is that in your cat's mind, that smell is attracting predators. Your cat may feel vulnerable and frightened to use the litter box. In the wild, predators locate their prey by scent, so a smelly litter box is like a neon fast food sign to predators. That's why cats are so careful to clean themselves all the time.. they don't want to become the lunch special to a coyote!

So do your cat a favor and keep his litter box clean and I bet the peeing problem will go away. So here's what you have to do.

Pictures_cats_litter_box_scoop.jpg1. Scoop out the clumps and poop every day - yes I said every day, just go one day without flushing your toilet and you'll understand why you have to do it everyday! Some cats like it done twice a day.

2. Add in a little bit of fresh litter to replace the wet and soiled litter you scoop out every day. This only amounts to a cup or two of litter but it makes a big difference to Kitty because cats like a lot of litter to dig around in.

3. Once a week (or more if your cat is particular about her litter box), empty out all the litter, wash out the litter box with a mild detergent - dish soap works well, but nothing too harsh like bleach or perfumed because it smells way stronger to your cat than to you and you might end up with an unhappy cat peeing on the floor again. Then fill the litter box with fresh, clean litter.

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People are constantly complaining about litter box issues so I am taking sometime to get to the bottom of this issue, once and for all! I have a theory that if you have one cat, you need two litter boxes; two cats, three litter boxes; three cats, four litter boxes and so on.

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pictures_cats_litter_box.jpgI blogged about litter box size a few days ago but the number of litter boxes might be an issue your cat needs you to address. Most vets and cat experts will tell you that if you have one cat, one litter box is fine, and if you have more than one cat, you need one litter box for each cat, plus one more. Well, that advice is correct to a point. If your litter boxes are the correct size for your cat and you clean them out regularly, you may only need one box per cat plus one more.

But I have a theory that even if you only have one cat, you might need another litter box. If you think about it, it makes sense. In the wild cats don't eliminate in one place all the time, that would be suicide, all a predator would have to do is hide at the pooping place and wait for Fluffy to come along and then the predator would have an easy snack.

Also, you don't know what could be bothering your cat on any given day, cats are sensitive to their environments - maybe the phone has been ringing too often and the sound is bothering him, so he doesn't want to use his litter box where it is because he's afraid that darned phone is going to ring again and scare him right in the middle of a big poo. Or maybe you are doing some cleaning and you keep walking by his litter box several times a day. Any number of things can make your cat want to go somewhere else.

So by offering your cat a second (or third litter box) you are providing a more natural way to eliminate. A second location gives your cat an alternative if he is feeling anxious or if he is not entirely happy with the first litter box or its location.

Because cats are so particular and like to stay clean, one small, dirty litter box is sure to cause some stress in your cat and stress is the number one cause of peeing outside the box. So when you are placing your litter boxes think about what it might be like for a cat in the wild - would they want to pee close to their food...no, would the want to poop where there are loud, frightening noises...no, would they want to pee while people or other animals walk by...no, would they like a big light shining on them...no.

The litter boxes should be in nice, quiet, locations, and the litter boxes should be big enough for him to turn around and dig around and find the best position for eliminating. I'm going to put my second litter box far away from the first so that Neo has a choice about where he goes. I'll let you know how that goes.

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I get so many people emailing me about cats peeing outside their litter boxes. Even Neo does it and I thought he had a urinary tract infection, I've tried different types of litter, cleaning his litter box every day and putting his litter box in quiet areas. Everything they experts have suggested.

Cat_Litter_Box.jpgThe only thing he seems to like, is to go outside - so I let him out as often as I can, but that doesn't always work. But there is hope for all of us with the problem of cats urinating outside the litter box.

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According to Dr. Tony Buffington at Ohio State University, a litter box should be 1.5 x longer than your cat - that's 1 and a half cats!

Neo is about 20 inches long so an ideal cat litter box for him would 1.5 x 20 which equals 30 inches. The ideal litter box for Neo would be at least 30 inches long! When I measured him, I didn't include his tail because cats usually lift their tails out of the way when they use the litter box. Besides, Neo has a freakishly long tail!

30 inches is way longer than a standard litter box, so what can you do? A suggestion is to get one of those clear plastic storage containers. I'm going to find one this weekend and let Neo try it out. I'll let you know how it works.

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pictures_cats_love.jpgDoubters will say that a cat only shows affection when he's hungry or wants something and that a cat is not truly capable of love. Those people obviously have never felt the love of a cat. I have to admit that food does play a part in it, but it does with people too - you know, the old adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach"

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So by feeding and caring properly for your cat you are actually laying the groundwork for love. But how do you know if your cat actually loves you?

Well there have been clinical studies done about how a person's heart rate lowers when they pet their cats and that can lead to a longer, healthier life. And the same studies have been conducted on cats. It turns out that their heart rate lowers when you show affection toward them, which is a sign of bonding, and love. According to these studies, the presence or touch of their human reduces stress.

Just think about when your cat is under stress, what does he do? He may run and hide, until the stress time is over, but then he usually appreciates your love and cuddles after the fact. Some cats run to their owners for safety during the stress time. Like Neo presses himself into me so hard, he'll push me off balance.

And I can remember a story Wendell told me about Maddy- she got tangled up in some netting and she was struggling and meowing - clearly under stress because she couldn't get out. But as soon as she heard Wendell's voice, she stopped struggling and let him gently untangle her.

Now that we know cats can bond with humans and feel love. What signs can you look for in your cat to know if he loves you?

pictures_cats_love_2.jpg1. Contributing to the household - you may not see it that way, but when your cat catches something, a mouse, a bird or even a toy and brings it to you and drops it at your feet, that's a sign of love. He wants to contribute and show that he can provide for you too.

2. Following you around - your cat may act casual about it, you know saunter into the room after you've already been there, or casually look away when you glance back at him. But clearly, your cat is interested in you and wants to be where you are.

3. Getting depressed when you leave - you may not see this, but if someone else is at home when you go, they might see it. Your cat may meow for you, or just go find a quiet spot and sleep until you return. If you have a predictable routine or make a distinct sound when you come home, your cat will be excited to see you. Again he may act casual about it, but trust me, he's excited to see you.

4. Sending you Cat Kisses - when your cat stares at you and then squints or closes his eyes. That is a huge sign of affection - in the cat world, that is the signal to other cats that this cat is not a threat. Your cat is completely vulnerable to you at that time. Send cat kisses back to him.

5. Overt signs of affection - rubbing his head on you, and walking by and tapping you with his tail - nothing a cat does is by accident, so if your cat rubs against you or touches you with his tail, it's love!

6. Lying on his back - exposing the tummy is sure sign that your cat trusts you - if a cat did this in the wild, he'd be lunch. But don't think your cat wants a belly rub - most cats don't want their tummy's rubbed, they might like a gentle stoke from chest to belly, but you have to know your cat and what he wants before you touch an exposed belly.

Just because cats can't kiss you, and hug you and hold your hand doesn't mean they don't love you - if you open up your heart and eyes and really see what your cat is doing, you'll understand that he loves you, he really loves you.

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By Jackson Galaxy

picture_of_black_cat_peek_a_boo.jpgIt seems odd to put "play" together with "therapy." After all, cats seem to keep themselves very well entertained without interference from us.

However, there are good reasons for us to "interfere." Many emotional and behavior problems in cats result from stress. Animals feel stress when they are helpless to change the conditions of their lives. Our cats, especially indoor cats, have little control over their environments. Along with the ordinary stresses of modern living such as noise and air pollution, it's no wonder our cats have problems!

There are two important factors to consider when dealing with feline behavior. First, the stressors that cats experience on a daily basis, and second, the outlets - how cats manifest (or hide) that stress:

Common Stressors

* Territory. A cat's territory is crucially important. When we urbanized as a culture and made our cats mostly indoors, we decreased their natural sense of territory by about 90%. Now imagine the stresses in a multi-cat home or one with small children.

* Routine. Cats prefer everything to happen in the same way, at the same time, every day. They don't like surprises! Fortunately, the stress that disruptions in routine can bring can be wonderfully soothed with play therapy. Examples of stressful disruptions include remodeling, with all its scary noises and strangers coming through the house; neighborhood cats in the territory; and new babies or other new residents in the home.

* Boredom. Our cats are not far removed from their wild ancestors. A natural hunter with no prey to stalk is like a kid without recess - bored, edgy, and looking for trouble!

Common Stress Outlets

pictures_cat_scratching_.jpg * Internalization. Some symptoms that your cat is taking in more than he or she can handle include excessive grooming; tension tail twitching; and somaticizing (obsessive-compulsive behaviors, vomiting, appetite disorders, and other chronic medical problems).

* Externalization. More extroverted cats can (and probably will) act out their stress in one of the following ways:

* Play Aggression. To a cat, play and prey are the same thing! That inner hunter has to come out somehow! These actions are not spiteful, just misdirected.

* Redirected Aggression. One way of letting off steam in a multicat home is to take it out on the other cats. "Redirected" means that the cat who got whacked just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can take a long time to normalize relations again. Stress is not usually the major cause of redirected aggression, but heightened stress levels most certainly can help precipitate an event.

* Other Behavior. Litterbox problems, scratching furniture, and middle-of-the-night vocalizing may all have a stress component. Stress alone doesn't often cause these problems to continue, but it is usually a contributor.

Treating the Problem - Let's Play!

The first step toward establishing a difference between casual play and play therapy is routine. Incorporating a play therapy session around the times of your cat's highest activity level will help dissipate a lot of stored frustration, stress and energy.

Interactive toys are used for play therapy; the best one is called Da Bird. It's a fishing pole toy with a unique feather configuration at the end that sounds like flapping wings. It's totally irresistible!

Pictures_Kitten_cats_Attacks.jpgIt's not enough to dangle the toy while watching TV. You have to be the bird! You've probably seen your cat perched in the window watching real birds. Now, let the cat follow a pattern of flight around the room long enough to get completely involved in it: with rapt attention, tensing muscles, and a little twitch of the tail. Talk to the cat in a light praising tone.

At some point, swoop the toy close enough for the cat to make a grab. When he catches you, play dead, but keep gentle tension on the string. When the cat relaxes, you make your escape! Fly around a bit, then allow yourself to be caught again. This whole routine can be repeated, of course, ad infinitum, until the cat is finished. But watch out for the "second wind!" This routine should truly tire the cat out.

The final step is a high protein snack. Kitten food, a dried liver treat, or a teaspoon of meat baby food work well. This completes the natural cycle of hunt-catch-kill-eat.

Once the session is over, put away the special play therapy toy. It only comes out for these special sessions. Regular daily play therapy work will make your cat happier and more confident, and less likely to manifest stress in unpleasant and unwanted ways.

Many cats benefit greatly from flower essence therapy. Spirit Essences offers many formulas to help with behavioral issues. In this case, "Feline Training" will help adjust to the new lessons of play therapy, especially during that crucial first few weeks of often frustrating un-learning of bad habits, and redirection towards appropriate outlets.

For a comprehensive, in-depth, 9-page report on this topic, including details about stress behaviors, specific "prey" strategies, and explicit how-to instructions for encouraging your cat to participate, see "What's Play Got To Do With It?" in the Little Big Cat bookstore! For personal assistance with your cat's health or behavior problems, call Jackson Galaxy at Little Big Cat! Schedule a consultation at 310-376-6616 or find out more at our consulting web page.

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