Scratching – Secrets For Saving Your Couch From The Cat

Imperial Cats Easy Chair and Ottoman

I just ordered one of these for Belle and Boccelli. The other cats will use it, of course, but Belle and Boccelli will love it most.

If you’re wondering why I would buy my cats a chair, this one is really a corrugated cardboard scratcher from Imperial Cat. Cats love corrugated cardboard because it feels very much like the bark on a tree.

Boccelli is a horizontal scratcher. He loves to crouch, dig in and tear whatever he’s scratching. Belle is a horizontal scratcher and likes to stretch full length. So Boccelli will like the ottoman, and Belle will love the back of the chair. When they’re not scratching, they’ll cuddle together on the seat.

Scratching is natural for cats, and they scratch even if they have no claws. Cats scratch to stretch the muscles in their backs and to mark their territory visually and with the scent in their paws. Of course, grooming their claws is another reason for this very important behavior.

Your cats don’t need their very own easy chair and ottoman to be happy scratchers. But they do need the right kind of scratcher in the right location. And every cat is different. So if you have several cats, you might need several kinds of scratchers. Katie loves one of our tall scratching posts that’s worn down to the bare wood. Sizzle and Muffitt like double wide corrugated cardboard scratching pads. They scratch them, and then they nap on them. Here are more scratching surfaces cats love.

But the location of your scratching posts and pads is just as important as the material you and your cats choose. If you hide them away in a dark corner, they’ll be ignored. Remember, one of the reasons cats scratch is to mark their territory. If you put scratching posts and pads at the entrances to rooms where you spend a lot of time, the cats will use them! Other good locations are against furniture they’re already scratching (they have a preference for that location) and near where they sleep. There’s nothing cats love more than a long, luxurious stretch after a nap.

Just one more suggestion: Be willing to invest in really good, high quality scratching posts that are tall enough for your cat to get a good stretch and stable enough that she won’t think the post is going to topple over on her every time she uses it. A post that’s too small or isn’t well made is hardly worth the money because it will likely be ignored, just like that scratcher in the dark corner. Good scratching posts and pads can seem pricey, but they’re a lot less expensive than a new couch!

For Cats Play Is All In A Day’s Work

Cat with toy

I’ve been choosing toys for my store and thinking about how important it is for cats to play. There are so many myths about cats and play. “He’s too old. “He’s too lazy.” “He doesn’t like toys.”

For cats, play is all in a day’s work. A cat is never too old or too lazy to hunt, and playing with toys mimics hunting behavior. To encourage your cat to play, you just need the right toys, or interesting “prey.”

So that’s why all those cute bat and swat toys never leave the toy basket. To a cat, they’re just so many dispatched mice. It’s no fun to play with something that’s no longer alive, and a mouse that’s been lying around for a while isn’t good to eat, either.

o cats, the best toys have a human on one end. Belle and Ginger love teasers with feather poufs. Everyone here loves the Feline Flyer and Da Bird. But you don’t need to invest in wand toys. Even a long shoelace will work.

To encourage your cat to play, try to make the toy mimic a mouse or bird. Make it swoop and soar overhead or zigzag along the floor, hopping and skipping and sometimes changing direction.

If your cat is old and doesn’t see as well as he used to, he’ll have more fun with toys like Da Bird, which has large Guinea feathers to pounce on and chase. If your cat is a couch potato, encourage him to play by dragging the toy (or shoelace) across the sofa. He will get up!

Oh, and about those bat and swat toys. Your cat will play with them if you bring them back to life by dangling them in front of him or gently tossing them across the floor. When I toss a crinkle ball for Boccelli, he’ll play soccer with it for what seems like hours. You can revive old toys with catnip spray or by
“marinating” them in a container of catnip, too.

What is your cat’s favorite toy? Mine love tissue paper sprinkled with catnip, bottle caps, paper supermarket bags and, of course, their Yeowww! Catnip Pollack Fish. We have lots of those!

Raw Meat – The Natural Toothbrush For Cats

Soda cat's facePhoto by Christine Krebs

As I’m typing, Soda is chomping on a thick, juicy chunk of beef. He won’t eat the whole thing, but that’s okay because the beef is not a meal. It’s his toothbrush.

If your cats are as resistant to having their teeth brushed as mine are, giving them raw meat and raw, meaty bones is another way to keep their teeth clean. The abrasive action of the meat and bones rubbing against their teeth scrapes off some of the tarter and plaque.

My cats like raw beef. But raw chicken also works. Or give your cats raw chicken wings or necks. Never give them cooked bones.  They can splinter and are a choking hazard.

While it would seem that “dental diet” dry food would accomplish the same thing, cats’ teeth are sharp and pointy and are designed to tear raw meat (mice). Some cats swallow most kinds of dry food whole. Others splinter it with their teeth. Pieces of dental diet dry food usually get splintered rather than chewed. So the cats get no benefit from the food. But it does form a starchy residue in their mouths that encourages the growth of the bacteria that cause plaque.

Veterinarians say the best way to keep your cats’ teeth clean is to brush them. But that’s a nonstarter with my cats. If brushing doesn’t work for you and your cats either, and if you don’t want to give them raw meat, there are more suggestions for keeping your cats’ teeth clean here.

Stray Cats And Loving Memories

Tommy CatMy Tommy Cat

For the last day or so, I’ve been writing about stray cats and have been lost in happy memories. There was Van Gogh, a huge feral with one ear who decided to move in with us and was my spirit guide for many years. And then there was Tommy, a very cool guy who also moved in with us and was my close friend and walking buddy for years.

Tommy was a mostly outside cat, but he’d come in every morning and evening to eat. At night, when he went back out after dinner, I’d go with him and the two of us would walk around the block together. I’d watch him pounce on shadows and chase bugs. And when we got back to my doorway, I’d kiss him goodnight and tell him to stay safe. Then he’d sit on the sidewalk and watch me go up the steps to our condo.

But not all the stray cats I’ve met have moved in with me, and that’s the way it should be because not all strays are in need of homes. Some are indoor/outdoor cats who are just stopping by for a visit and some are lost and want nothing more than to be reunited with their families.

As good Samaritans, we’re sometimes too quick to “rescue.”

Clyde was another cat I loved. He’d show up at my door promptly at nine every night. He never wanted to come in, but he did want to eat. I’d give him a can of Fancy Feast, which he enjoyed. Then he’d be on his way.

As winter approached, I began to worry about him, so I put a collar on him with a note: “Does this cat need a home?” The next day, I got a call from his “mom,” who’d been wondering where her boy went every night at nine. We became friends and loved talking about our cats’ adventures.

So what should you do if you meet a stray cat? First, assume he’s someone’s cat and, like Clyde, is just visiting. Don’t rush to bring him in. He can’t go home if he’s inside your house! Another assumption, that is almost always correct, is that the cat is lost and someone is looking for him.

Losing a cat is heartbreaking. When you meet a stray, the kindest thing you can do for the cat and the people who love him is make every effort to reunite him with his family. After all, if your cat got lost, you’d want someone to do that for you. My article on stray cats includes tips on reuniting lost cats with their families.

My Lost Cat Is Home!

Boccelli in the grass

I’m writing with such joy tonight. After three days, my lost cat is home! Boccelli went out Tuesday morning and vanished. There were no signs of him anywhere. I walked our parking lots and the woods at all hours of the day and night, put up fliers, filed a “lost” report with animal control, posted him in the Pets and Lost and Found sections on Craig’s List and on the local lost pets pages on Facebook. I got lots of advice on finding lost cats, but no one had seen my cat.

Boccelli always meows his squeaky, quirky meow when I call him. So this afternoon, I was searching in the woods yet again when I heard that Boccelli meow. The poor little guy was in the snow under a bush at the edge of the woods.

He’s home now, sleeping on his favorite chair in my office. Every few minutes I look around to reassure myself that he’s really there.

Boccelli is an experienced indoor/outdoor cat, so it was even more frightening when he disappeared. But losing a cat is terrifying and heartbreaking, no matter what the cat’s lifestyle is. There are many websites that tell you how to find lost animals, and I’m going to link to a couple of them here. But first, I want to share a few of my own tips based on personal experience with my own cats and rescue.

  • Start your search right away. The sooner you begin looking for your lost cat, the easier it will be to find him.
  • If you live with strictly indoor cats, check every nook and cranny of your house. This may seem obvious, but many “lost” cats have been found wrapped up in comforters, in drawers and closets, above ceiling tiles and behind washers and dryers. Use your imagination, and think like a cat!
  • If your cats go out, take a cat with you when you search, or borrow a neighbor’s cat-friendly dog. Animals are very good at finding lost cats who want to be found.
  • When you call your cat outside, wait a few minutes before moving on so he has time to come to you or meow to let you know where he is. Many lost cats are too frightened to come when called. But if your cat’s not scared or injured, he might come to the sound of your voice.
  • When you spot your cat, approach him very slowly. Bend over and make yourself as small as possible, or sit on the ground so you’re at his level. Remember, he’s probably scared and he might not even realize the human approaching him is you. Offering him treats might encourage him to come to you. 
  • If you’re not very confident you’ll be able to carry the cat all the way home, take a top loading carrier with you. If the cat gets away from you, it could be days before you see him again. Or set a humane trap. Most animal control agencies have traps to loan or rent. Never leave an open trap unsupervised, and cover it with a large towel as soon as the cat goes in.
  • An animal communicator can help you narrow your search. While she won’t get an exact street address, she will probably be able to find out whether the cat is inside or outside, whether he rode in a car to get to his current location and other information that could help you.

You’ll find many more search tips on these pages.
Missing Pet Partnership
Cats in the Bag
Baltimore Lost Cat Project

After an entire night of wandering through the woods in the freezing cold and snow looking for my beloved Boccelli, I was heartbroken and discouraged. So if your cat is missing, I understand your overwhelming grief. But don’t give up. Chances are, your cat is out there just waiting to be found.

Oh, one more thing: Even if your cats live strictly indoors, they really should be microchipped and wear collars with tags (please remove those annoying little bells). Although microchips aren’t without controversy, most shelters and vets scan “strays” to see if they’re chipped. If your cat gets lost and is picked up by Animal Control, that chip will be his ticket home.

My cats go out, and as an extra safety precaution, their tags say they’re microchipped.

We Tried Cat-With-No-Name, We Really Tried

black cat face

She lived her last days in a cage at Baltimore County Animal Control’s ruthless “shelter.” A black cat with no name, she was tossed out by her humans and left to die either outside or at the hands of the executioners who say they work in the animal welfare profession.

My rescue tried to save her. They even put her on hold for us. But when a volunteer went to get her out of the shelter this afternoon, they told him she was “no longer there.” In other words, they killed her. Notice I am not saying they euthanized her. Euthanasia means “good death.” Living in a cage and then being given a lethal injection is not a “good death.”

Since we found out, our volunteers and I have been grieving for the black cat with no name who died so unnecessarily in that awful “shelter.” We tried, sweet cat. We really tried. We thought you would be coming to our shelter, which is a true shelter where cats live in comfort and dignity until they find their forever homes. We had wonderful plans for you. We were going to love you until you found a family that would treasure every moment they spent with you. I’m in shock. I still don’t believe they deprived you of that love and a wonderful life.

Tonight, I’ve been writing articles for my website about adopting a cat and thinking about you and the thousands of other cats who die in shelters every year because people think they’re disposable and can be tossed out like an old pair of shoes.

Sad as I am, I dream of the day when this nation values the lives of all of our animals, including our cats and dogs. Someday, we will be a no-kill nation. Read more about the no-kill movement here, and think about it. We can do this, if all of us work together and let our animal control agencies know we want the killing to stop.

Rest in peace, dear black cat. Although we never met you, we loved you. We even had a name for you. We were going to call you Lucky.

Should You Adopt A Cat?

Muffitt's faceMuffitt by Christine Krebs

I got an email today from a man who wanted to adopt a cat from my rescue. Only problem was, he’d just gotten new furniture, and he wanted a cat who was guaranteed not to scratch his leather couch. Oh, and he needed a cat with perfect litter box habits.

I actually live with the perfect cat. Muffitt uses her scratching posts and tree trunks, not the couch. Her litter box habits are beyond reproach. And she’s sweet and gentle and a wonderful friend. She loves to go for walks with me, and she curls up beside me every night and licks my hand until I fall asleep. Really. She’s the perfect cat, and beautiful, too.

But I realize that Muffitt might not always be perfect. As she ages, she might require different litter box and scratching arrangements. Like older people, older cats sometimes require special accommodations and extra patience and love.

The man who wrote to me today got a snippy reply. I told him adopting a cat was probably not a good idea for him. My rescue gets too many pleas from shelters and people who just don’t have the patience and flexibility to live with a cat, or any kind of animal companion. I certainly wasn’t going to adopt to him and have the cat returned, or even worse, enter the kill shelter system, for “bad behavior.”

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that not everyone who wants a cat should have one. After all, adopting a cat is a long-term commitment. The average lifespan of a cat is 16 years, and many live much longer. It’s a financial and lifestyle commitment, too. If the thought of having litter boxes in places that are convenient for the cat, but not necessarily for you, doesn’t appeal to you, you probably shouldn’t consider adding a cat to your family. If your new furniture is more important to you than just about anything else, you probably shouldn’t have an animal companion to mess it up.

The thing to remember is that cats (and dogs) form strong bonds with their family members of all species and rehoming them or taking them to a shelter can literally break their hearts. Here are more things to consider before you adopt. And please take your decision seriously. Your new cat’s life depends on it!

If your wondering about Muffitt, a good Samaritan found her wandering the streets of Baltimore with a flea collar embedded in her neck. She spent an astonishing amount of money on vet care and planned to keep her. But her cat hated her so much, he got sick, so she gave her to the Howard County Cat Club. After a year in our shelter, I decided if no one else wanted her I did. Cat things usually happen for a reason, and maybe I was meant to have Muffitt, the perfect cat.

Ten Reasons Why Cats Are Given Up To Shelters

Belle in shelter

My beautiful little Belle was just four months old when she was trapped and taken to the awful, high-kill Gaston Shelter in Dallas, NC. The reason? She was a stray.

After a long car ride from North Carolina to Maryland, Belle lives with me now, and she will never see the inside of a cage on death row again. But not all cats are so lucky. These are the most common reasons for giving cats up to shelters.
“The cat was a stray I rescued, but I can’t/don’t want to keep it.”
“My new partner (baby, child) is allergic, and no we won’t do allergy shots.”
3. “He won’t use the litter box. He hasn’t for years, and we’ve tried everything.”
6. “We’re moving and can’t/don’t want to take the cat.”
7. “She’s diabetic, and we can’t/don’t want to/can’t afford to give her insulin twice a day.”
“He doesn’t like the new baby and is acting out.”
9. “He doesn’t like the new puppy and is acting out.”
10. “He was my mother’s cat. And no, no one in my family will give him a home, even though he was her closest companion for 16 years.

If you find a cat you don’t want to keep, can’t take your cat with you when you move, want nothing to do with your now-deceased parents’ beloved cat, have a family member who suddenly develops allergies or add a puppy to your family causing major trauma to the cat who was there first, keep this in mind: Cats who go to kill shelters rarely come out alive. Finding a way to keep the cat is always best. If that’s really not possible, there are always alternatives to kill shelters. You just have to be willing to make the effort to find them.

This is how Belle looks when she’s in a loving home, not a cage!

Charlie’s Cold Weather Cat Shelter – Keeping My Boy Comfy & Warm

Outdoor cat shelter

When I went to feed my Charlie Cat this morning, he was lounging in his shelter with his head resting on the frame just outside the door. Charlie has two shelters, but he loves this one for just relaxing and getting out of the rain.

The other shelter — we call it the Gucci shelter — is back further in the woods. It’s big enough for three or four cats, although I don’t know if Charlie ever has overnight guests there. And it’s so heavily insulated, it kept him warm, even when the temperature dropped to seven degrees last week. A man who advertises on Craig’s List built it to our specifications especially for the trapped/neutered/returned feral cats who live in our neighborhood.

It seems that different cats have different tastes in shelters. Some of our neighborhood ferals like the Rubbermaid storage boxes we gave them. A friend cut two six-inch holes in the sides, so the cats would have an entrance and an emergency exit if a raccoon or other animal decided to join them inside. The storage boxes have pieces of Styrofoam against the sides, and Mylar, to reflect the cats’ body heat, covers the Styrofoam. They’re filled with straw, because straw is warmer than blankets and stays dry.

The “Gucci shelter” also has an entrance and emergency exit. There’s a shelf inside for added safety and to provide more stretching out space for the cats.

I chose Charlie’s shelter because, well… I chose it because that cat face is awfully cute. And I liked that it’s off the ground and has an entrance and exit, so my Charlie boy won’t get trapped inside. I also liked the awning that keeps snow from piling up at the doors.

Charlie loves it. He can stretch out inside and hold the door open with his head so he can see what’s going on outside and when his breakfast and dinner are about to be served. I often find him there just hanging out and relaxing until I show up with his food.

If you live in a cold climate, having a warm shelter can make the difference between life and death for your outside cats. You can read more about DIY cat shelters here.

December 20th, 2013

Cats And Heart Disease: Sizzle And I Begin Our Journey

Sizzle orange cat

Our journey began just over a month ago, when my huge, beautiful Sizzle went into congestive heart failure.

They call heart disease in cats the silent killer, and that was nearly true of my beloved Sizzle. In the morning, he was fine. That evening, he could barely walk and was meowing the loudest, saddest most desperate-sounding meow I’ve ever heard.

At the ER, I wasn’t prepared for such awful news. His blood pressure was so low it didn’t even register, and the doctor said his low temperature meant his body was shutting down. But I don’t give up without a fight, and I asked him to please save my boy’s life.

Throughout the night, Sizzle made steady progress, and the next day he was stable enough to be transferred to a specialty hospital about an hour away. He was there for a week!

I lived with a cat with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy several years ago, and I knew my newly diagnosed heart cat was going to come home with a truckload of medicine. My challenge was to get all that medicine into him every day without turning my close friend into an arch enemy.

So this was our plan. First, I swapped out all the pills for chicken-flavored liquid because liquid is more pleasant for the cat, and he can’t spit it out. And I decided to mix the Tumil-K potassium powder into chicken baby food. That worked for about two days, and then he decided he really didn’t like baby food with medicine in it. But Sizzle will do almost anything for treats, and when I put treats on top of the baby food, he ate it happily. Since then, I’ve added some supplements from our holistic vet to the baby food, and Sizzle still licks the dish clean.

Needless to say, we go through a lot of treats at our house now. Many other cats live here, and we have a treat party every time Sizzle gets his medicine. I sit on the floor with him while he eats his baby food and dole out treats to Myles and Boccelli on my left, Ginger on my right and Muffitt behind me. I toss treats over Sizzle’s head to Katie and Honey Cat. The whole thing is sort of involved, and, as I said we go through a lot of treats. But it’s all worth it because my big boy thinks taking all those meds is sort of fun.

Do you and your cat fight over his medicine? There are lots of tips and tricks for giving a cat a pill here.