Cat care – Behavior & Litter box

cats behavior

Choosing the best material for your litter box

litter box cat care

The big question is: What is the best material to use?

Cats, by nature, dig and scratch in soft soil out of doors, often burying their waste. The litter you provide substitutes for the dirt outside.

Clay is a good absorbent of moisture and odour and a reasonable substitute for fresh soil from the yard. Large granular clay, though economical and absorbent, is often dusty and tracks about the house. Small granular “clumping” litters (also made of clay) have become popular recently due to their excellent absorbency, clumping properties – which lead to the formation of firm balls when moistened – and their ease of disposal. These litters also make litter boxes easier to keep clean.

Environmentally friendly litters are often made of recycled waste products, such as newspaper. They can also be made of biodegradable material, including wheat, corn and wood chips that break down easily in landfills. Some of these litters have the consistency of fine sand while others come in pelleted form.

Silica gel litters have become increasingly popular. These clear plastic beads are neat to look at and absorb odor well. When your cat urinates in the box adorned with these litters you can actually hear a snap, crackle and pop as the beads soak up the liquid. This litter is good for extended periods, about 3 to 4 weeks in most instances. But remember, the litter can only hold so much moisture and must be changed eventually. Also, the beads have a tendency to bounce around the room once they are knocked out of the box.

Once you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it. Don’t buy whatever is on sale this week. Cats are very particular and litter changes can lead to unwelcome modifications in bathroom habits.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I CHANGE LITTER?

Try to remove feces and moistened litter daily. Regular scooping will keep the box from becoming an odour source for your home and maintain it as an attractive place for your cat. Depending on the buildup of soiled litter and odours, completely clean out the box and replenish it with fresh litter every so often. When changing the litter, you should wash the box with warm, soapy water, but remember to rinse it thoroughly before refilling it with litter.

Read: Feline House-Soiling

Litter box training your cat

cat care litter box

If you’re taking home a new kitten who has captured your heart, you will certainly need one important accessory — a litter box.

Hmmm, the mysterious litter box — knowing which one to get and what to do with it does not come naturally to the average pet owner. Here’s what you need to know.

HOW MANY?

You should always have one more litter box than you have cats. That is, one cat gets two litter boxes. Two cats get three. If you have a two-story home keep one litter box on each floor.

HOW BIG?

The litter box should be roomy enough for your cat to turn around in it. Forget about trying to get a small litter box to minimize the unsightliness. You have a cat. Your friends will have to understand. If the box is too small, your cat simply won’t use it and will eliminate elsewhere. But if the litter box is too big, you may also have a problem, especially if you have a very small kitten. Don’t buy a huge box and expect your kitten to scale it every time she has to “go to the bathroom.” Buy a smallish litter box for your kitten and invest in a larger one as she grows.

TO COVER OR NOT TO COVER

That is the question. There are covered litter boxes as well as open ones. If you use a covered box, make sure your cat can get in and out easily. The best types of covered box also have overlapping seams so that sprayed urine will not leak out. Remember, though, that many cats hate being enclosed when they are at their most vulnerable. They often like to see who’s coming and going, in case they need to beat a hasty retreat. This especially true in a multi cat household.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

A cardinal rule of cat ownership is to never put your cat’s litter box next to her food bowl or bed. Cats do not like to eliminate where they eat or have their nest.

Put the litter box in a quiet low-traffic area, such as in a spare bathroom. A corner location is better than out in the open because a cat needs to feel secure. If your cat has only got two directions to watch instead of four – and feels she has an escape route – she’ll be more relaxed.

If you have more than one cat, remember that cats are territorial and hierarchical. So, put their boxes far enough apart to be sure that territorial issues don’t come into play if one invades the other’s space.

The alpha cat

cat Animal Hospital Ile-Bizard

Cats are supposed to be warm and friendly creatures, seeking owner approval, petting and cuddles and purring their way through peaceful evenings at home.

But not all cats are this amiable or this compliant. These are “alpha cats.” They are natural leaders; they refuse to be led and attempt to take charge of practically every situation.

These cats like their food when they want it and the way that they like it … or else.

They may only let you touch them for short periods of time and then again, only on their terms. They rebel when admonished and demand attention, access, and assets – when the mood so takes them.

You don’t own an alpha cat – he owns you, or at least, he thinks he does.

Perhaps the most classical component of the alpha cat syndrome is petting-induced aggression. Alphas will jump up on your lap and allow themselves to be petted – but only for a short while. And when they’ve had enough, they narrow their eyes, glance sideways at the petting hand, and their tail begins to switch from side to side.

What to do? In essence, they must be shown who calls the shots, who is really charge, and who is the supplier of all good things. Then and only then will their bossiness be honed into acceptance and respect. The name of the behaviour modification program is “Nothing in Life is Free.”

Alpha cat training

Alpha cat training

AVOID ALL CONFRONTATIONS

Make a list of situations and things you do that cause your cat to become aggressive and conscientiously avoid these situations. If your cat bites you to make you get out of bed, shut him out of the bedroom at night. If your cat bites you when he is on your lap and you are petting him, do not allow him onto your lap for a while until he has learned some manners. Also, learn to read the warning signs and ration your petting.

TRAINING

Despite popular opinion, it is quite possible to train a cat to respond on cue. The best way to accomplish this is with click and treat training.

Clicker training basically involves three steps.

  • Step One Teaching the cat that the click of a plastic “frog” or clicker heralds the arrival of delicious food treat.
  • Step Two The cat learns that he can make the clicker click by performing certain actions.
  • Step Three The cat is rewarded with a click and a food treat only if he performs an action after being cued.

Take the action of sitting, for example. First click and treat the cat for nothing. This is called “charging” the clicker. Next click and reward sitting when it occurs naturally. Once the cat has grasped the concept and starts approaching you and sitting for a click (and thus a treat), escalate to the third step of the process, adding a conditional stimulus, in this case the word SIT.

NO FREE LUNCH

Feed your cat twice daily so that you control when he gets fed. At mealtime a cat should be hungry. Have him SIT before you click and put down the food bowl. The meal becomes the reward. No SIT = no food that mealtime.

WORKING FOR PETTING

Petting should be rationed to keep your cat hungry for your attention. Petting and attention are supplied only when the cat does something to deserve them, like responding to a voice cue or hand signal. This is particularly advisable if petting-induced aggression is a feature of your cat’s aggressive repertoire.

PUT YOUR CAT’S TOYS AWAY

Supply them only when he has done something to deserve them. Allow the cat free access to the toy until he loses interest and then pick it up and replace it in the toy chest (or drawer).

RATION GAMES

As useful as games are to help your cat blow off steam, they are also fun and as such should only be engaged in only when your cat earns the right.

NEVER RESPOND TO ATTENTION SEEKING (demanding) BEHAVIOR.

Act dumb. Walk away. Disappear.

Deliver what the cat wants later, on your terms, and only in response to the successful accomplishment of an assigned task like sitting, coming when called, or waiting patiently.

FIRE ENGINE SERVICE

If your cat starts trying to bite you or acts aggressively in any way, remove yourself from his presence for a few hours (turn, walk away, and leave the cat alone) or herd the cat into another room for time out. Cats learn. You should, too.

Furniture scratching

Furniture scratching

Cats make great pets. They love to play, they love to cuddle when you’re watching TV or sleeping, and they purr for no reason other than being near you.

But they also love to scratch. Unfortunately, the things they love to scratch are often the legs of your antique table, your upholstered sofa, or your expensive stereo speakers.

Scratching is easier to deal with if you understand why cats scratch in the first place.

In the wild, cats scratch around their immediate environment to signal their presence to other cats and to claim the area in question.

The marking takes two forms: visual and olfactory. The visual mark is in the form of clawing marks and is so obvious that even we humans can recognize it (not that we appreciate its significance).

The olfactory mark is subtler, involving the release of pheromones. These are substances secreted from the body to be picked up by members of the same species, causing them to alter their behaviour.

A competitor coming up to the site will see the scratch marks and then smell the message: another cat has already claimed this place. One thing’s for sure; the signal is not a friendly one.

Scratching has additional functions, too. You might think your cat scratches to sharpen his claws, but it more likely it provides your cat with a form of physical therapy for the muscles and tendons of his paws. It also assists in shucking off old nail husks.

Healthy and natural to your cat, scratching can become a real problem for the owner. Even your fairly secure housecat will occasionally feel the need to leave his mark by scratching, and the most usual target is your furniture.

Scratching posts to distract your cat

Scratching posts cat

To persuade your cat to use a scratching post, you have to understand some basics:

  • Keep one extra scratching post in the household. If you have four cats, keep five posts. Once the problem is under control, those that are not being used can be removed.
  • Each scratching post should be tall enough for your cat to stretch up to its full height without being able to reach the top, i.e. about 3 feet high.
  • The scratching post should be steady. No self-respecting cat will entertain the thought of using a post that rocks or falls over.
  • Use the correct material. One of the essential functions of scratching is to leave a visible mark. Fabric that doesn’t tear or fray will be of no use. Burlap is a favorite with many cats.
  • Choose an attractive location for your cat. Most people try to hide scratching posts from view. This completely negates the whole purpose of scratching for the cat. Position posts in obvious areas at first, preferably near scratching sites that your cat has selected for himself, then gradually repositioned to less obvious places later.

Counters and your cat

Animal clinic Roxboro (Montreal)

Why do cats find counters so appealing?

Take this quiz to find out:

A. Because they’re there.

B. Because cats naturally prefer a three-dimensional environment.

C. Because cats occasionally find food morsels while patrolling countertops.

D. All of the above.

ANSWER D IS CORRECT.

There are many good reasons why your cat should stay off the counter. Cats spend a fair amount of time each day in their litter box, scratching around and covering up their waste. Not a great thought if you are about to prepare food.

Also, while they are up on counters, cats may pause to lick the butter or steal nibbles or whole chunks of food that you have left lying around. In addition, not everything the cat steals will be good for him – and some things, like chicken bones, can be downright harmful.

How to get'em off

Cat care

Here are several things you can do to keep kitty where he belongs:

  • Make sure that your cat has other places to climb so that the countertop is not his only vertical challenge. Climbing frames positioned by a window, providing a perch with a view, may divert some attention from the counters.
  • Make sure that your counters never have food items lying around on them. Always clean up properly by putting unused food away. A cat that finds morsels of food once in a while will keep looking for more for many moons.
  • Make counters unattractive. Cats, generally, do not like the smell of citrus or disinfectants. Try using a countertop cleaner with a citrus odor or wash the countertops down with Pinesol® after use.
  • Booby traps/mild punishers. Various booby traps have been invented to deter cats from counter surfing. Some of these deterrents include: putting cling film over the countertop, making a shallow tray out of aluminum foil and filling it with water, various springing devices (upside-down mousetraps or proprietary plastic jumping frogs), or attaching a black thread “trip wire” across the access to the counter and attaching it to a nearby pile of shake cans.

The only alternative is to teach yourself not to worry so much about your cat being up on the counters. This is the cognitive approach to therapy – for you.

Exercise your cat!

Something you can do easily at home to exercise your cat, keep him stimulated and out of trouble!