Cat fence with rollers
Cat in fenced yard with Oscillot roller system. Courtesy oscillotamerica.com

It has become more and more common to keep cats solely indoors. Indoor cats live longer – they are not run over by cars, hunted by coyotes, or injured in cat fights.

However, there is a cost to this safety and security. Indoor cats have fewer opportunities to exercise and don’t receive the mental stimulation from hunting and exploring the outdoors.

Both cats and zoo animals are captives in the environments we provide for them. Like zoo animals, cats need enrichment to maintain their health and welfare. An outdoor safe place is a great way to enrich your cat’s life!

The compromise: Outdoor Safe Places


Do you live in an apartment? Or in a house with a backyard? There are many options available to you and your cat for an outdoor safe place.

 systems with netting – flexible


In these systems, a sturdy net or mesh is attached to rope or wire rope that forms a frame. The wire rope versions have turnbuckles to tension the mesh. Although some more nimble cats can climb this mesh, most cats seem to leave it alone. These systems can be customized to fit apartment balconies and porches, and enclose areas next to your house.

Cat enclosures


A commercial cat enclosure kit has access from a pet door in the sliding glass door.

These are basically outdoor cages. They range from portable to larger dog-kennels to elaborate enclosed systems with walkways linking cat doors to larger enclosures.
You could repurpose a standard freestanding dog kennel to be a cat enclosure but be aware that you have to secure the top with netting or mesh to keep the cat from climbing out and extend the fencing below ground to keep more adventurous cats from digging under the kennel.
Purrfect Fence sells enclosures consisting of a box-style frame with net stretched over it.
Purrfect Fence also markets a freestanding cat yard using supports, gates, and netting. This cat yard could enclose your entire back yard or just part of it. The netting forms a fence and there is no “ceiling”.
Each fence support has an arm that forms an overhang. Each arm is spring-loaded and buckles if a cat tries to climb over the netting fence, dropping him to the ground. Other vendors sell similar systems.

Have a backyard with an existing fence?


There are systems to cat-proof your fence by making it higher (6 feet or more) with an overhang that is difficult for cats to scale. The fence extensions are covered with sturdy netting. The Purrfect Fence extensions come with their spring-loaded arm. Deerbusters also sells fence extensions that are covered by netting.

Cons of netting


  • net can rip
  • clog with leaves or snow
  • trap birds or squirrels?

roller systems


If there is already a tall (6+ feet) fence around your yard, the Oscillot system could fit the bill! Oscillot is designed for fences 6’ and higher and can be adapted to a variety of fence types: wood, chainlink, masonry, wrought iron. The Oscillot System features x-shaped rollers at the top of the fence, that spin and prevent the cat from gaining traction to get over the top of the fence.

So far, we have been concerned with keeping our cats in but what about keeping other animals out?

Other critters….


You don’t have to live out on the range to have problems with raccoons and coyotes. These animals are increasingly becoming urban pests. Raccoons can climb as well if not better than cats and are not above viewing your cat as a snack. Coyotes are capable of jumping 6’ fences, so if you are concerned about coyotes or raccoons, a tall fence is in order and one of the roller systems can be effective.

Purrfect Fence observes that netting is difficult for predators to climb and once inside, they are trapped. They recommend giving a cat-free trial of  a new outdoor enclosure for a few days and see if any predators get trapped. Once trapped then freed, predators are unlikely to come back. Purrfect Fence does not recommend allowing your cat out in the fenced area at night.

Fully enclosed spaces (enclosures) should not have issues with predators although sometimes bats can find their way inside. Bats carry rabies so make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines.

The low-tech Option…


Perhaps you can join your cat on a morning or afternoon walk in your backyard or neighborhood. After all, getting outdoors is good for us too! It never hurts to have your cat harnessed even in a fenced backyard – this way you can clip the leash on as needed. If you walk your cat in public places, make sure to have kitty in a harness with leash and  have a mobile “outdoor safe place” – stroller or backpack – with you.

 

A final word…


There is no substitute for supervision or training.  It is a good idea to keep an eye on your cats while they are in an outdoor safe place. Teach your cat to come when called. Remember, any time you call and your cat comes to you, make sure to reward him – no recall should ever go unrewarded!

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T is for think about where you are touching the cat.

“Touch not the cat bot a glove” : so goes the motto of the Macpherson clan in Scotland. “Bot” means without; the cat referred to is the Scottish Wildcat. The motto warns that you must be careful handling a wildcat when his claws are not sheathed or “gloved”.

The Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) still lives in Scotland today, a wild, reclusive cat whose numbers are dwindling.

After 10,000 years of living with humans, our domestic cats may have markers of domestication in their genome but they still share a lot with their wild ancestors and cousins. They still have sharp claws and teeth and need to be handled respectfully.

Dr. Lauren Finka, working with colleagues at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, came up with a simple set of Human-Cat Interaction Guidelines.  These guidelines aim to make cats more  comfortable when they are interacting with us.

These practical guidelines for interacting with cats follow the acronym CAT (easy to remember). Here they are!

 

is for choice and control. Cats are not only predators, they are also prey for larger animals such as coyotes. To survive, they need to be in control of their environment.

Give your cat choice and control –
Allow your cat to CHOOSE whether or not to interact with you.

  • If you can, get on the cat’s level, offer your hand, and allow him to approach you.
  • If the cat wants to be touched, she will rub against your hand. If she doesn’t lean into your hand, don’t pet her.
  • Allow the cat to move away from you if he chooses; don’t follow him if he leaves.
  • Allow the cat to control how much you stroke her. When stroking her, pause every 3–5 sec to see if she wants to continue – does she rub against you to ask for more? If not, let her take a break.

is for attention. Pay attention to what your cat is trying to tell you – watch her body language.

 

 

These signals indicate that your cat is done interacting with you.

 

  • Gus turns to face me and pulls back on his paw during a nail trim – he needs a break!

    She turns her head or moves away from you.

  • His ears become flattened or rotate backwards.
  • She shakes her head.
  • The fur on his back “ripples”.
  • She licks her nose.
  • He becomes still, and stops purring or rubbing against you.
  • She sharply turns her head to face you or your hand.
  • He suddenly starts grooming himself but only for a few seconds at a time.
  • Her tail starts switching back and forth rapidly; usually the tail is horizontal or on the ground.

 

is for think about where you are touching the cat.

  • A friendly cat prefers to be touched at the base of his ears, around his cheeks, and under his chin.
  • AVOID the base of her tail and tummy.
  • If you touch the cat’s back, flank, legs, or tail–watch his body language (see above) to see if he is comfortable with this. Follow the CAT guidelines when interacting with cats for a safer, more enjoyable encounter!

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art by Cal Meyer

Cats and boxes are a purrfect combination.  An enclosed space like a box can be a safe place, help keep a cat warm and give him a vantage point to ambush “prey” (unfortunate insects, catnip mice…). Boxes are also popular with other animals – big cats are often given boxes for enrichment at zoos and refuges; dogs also like boxes to play in but some may tend to chew the box up!

Cats will also sit on just about anything, comfortable or not. Anyone who does craft projects well knows that once the fabric is out to be cut, a cat will be sitting on it soon enough. Years ago, cats sat on newspapers if you tried to spread the paper out on the table – nowadays, they park on computer keyboards. Some of this is attention-seeking behavior – Zelda only lets me type so long Sunday mornings before she gets up on my desk and threatens to contribute to the post if I don’t take her for her morning walk.

In 2009, the USPS came up with the Christmas slogan, “If it fits, it ships”.  A few years later, a variant of the slogan became an Internet cat meme: “It it fits, I sits”.  This gave rise to posts of cats in all sort of places, from egg cartons and shoeboxes, to bowls and sinks.

The Internet exploded again in 2017 as people used tape to outline squares on the floor for their cats to sit in. Cats were “trapped” in all manner of taped shapes, with cat experts offering explanations ranging from cats reacting to new smells (from the tape) to survival instinct, where the cats must investigate something new (the taped square) to determine if it poses danger to them.  Some felt that the taped square offered the cat a sense of security, much like a real box.

The phenomenon did not stop here – in 2020, during the COVID pandemic, a woman in the Philippines photographed stray cats practicing “social distancing” – the cats sat on circles painted on the ground 6 feet apart outside a food market.

cats and boxes: optical illusions


It is not surprising that cats in taped squares became the subject of a research study investigating cats’ responses to optical illusions. In a two month study in June-August of 2020, researchers at Hunter College enrolled over 500 cat owners to participate in a study to assess cats’ responses to a taped square, a Kanizsa square (which gives the illusion of a square), and a control figure.

Enrolled owners were sent booklets containing pairs of these shapes that they affixed to the floor.  The owners then took videos of their cats’ responses to the shape-pairs and submitted the videos to the research team.  They were to do this once daily for 6 days.

The results found that of the 30 cats that completed all six trials of the experiment, only nine of them “participated”, that is, sat in one of the shapes. These cats were just as likely to sit in the taped square as the Kanizsa square. Only once did one of the cats choose to sit in the control shape.

What does this tell us about cats? Are they susceptible to the optical illusion of a square? Do they recognize it as a square? I think more research will have to be done:

  • Only 9 out 30 cats actually sat in the shapes.
  • Cats are not as tall as we are and don’t see well close up. Can they see the squares from their vantage point?
  • I, for one, would like to know how many cats will voluntarily sit in a taped outline – I tried leaving a hula hoop out on the floor to see if any of my four cats would voluntarily sit in the circular outline. I did not have any takers!

This study is the first to use “citizen scientists” (the owners) to observe the cats in their home environments, thereby avoiding stress-induced behaviors that cats can exhibit in unfamiliar settings, such as a laboratory.

Back to cats and boxes…


Cats are practical. They prefer their owners to their owners’ T-shirts. I feel that they would prefer a physical box to a taped outline. A box is a great source of enrichment – it can be a bed, a den, it can be place to hide while ambushing a toy mouse going by. Shelter cats acclimate to their surroundings more quickly when provided a box to hide in.

Boxes that are too small to allow a cat to hide may make him feel good by putting physical pressure on his body, like when we wedge ourselves in the corner of the sofa watching a favorite TV program.  Pressure on soft tissue has been shown to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety in both humans and animals.

So, make sure your cat has a safe place – a place he can call his own, a place that is secure, secluded, a hiding place to retreat to, warm in the winter, cool in the summer. It can be a cardboard box in a closet or in a secluded corner!

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Moving can be hectic and stressful for both people and pets. When you move your cat, he is uprooted from his territory, a place where he feels safe and secure – where he can rest, has shelter, and is safe from predators. What do you need to consider when unloading the boxes and positioning the furniture?

Setting up a cat-friendly home can help reduce the stress of the move and help your cat quickly establish her new territory.

setting up a cat-friendly home


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) list five things that make a healthy environment for a cat.

  1. Resources : food, water, litter box, shelter
  2. Safe access to resources
  3. Environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell: territory
  4. Human interaction: predictable
  5. Predatory behavior

Needs of Domestic cats

  1. If we organize these needs in a pyramid diagram, the lowest tier includes those needs essential to survival: food, water, and litter boxes.
  2. The next level ensures that these essential resources are available to each cat to use safely, without fear. We cat owners must provide multiple, separate feeding and watering stations and litter boxes.
  3. Another of the AAFP requirements is that the environment respects the cat’s sense of smell.  Such an environment is the cat’s territory. Cats will mark walls and furniture in the home with scents from glands in their faces and mark scratching posts with scents released when scratching. Your cat belongs to his territory.
  4. The final two tiers deal with how we interact with our cats and…
  5. Offering them an opportunity to exercise their hunting skills.

The first three tiers are ones that are physically affected by moving from one place to another.

  • Where do you locate litter boxes and feeding stations in your new home?
  • Where can you locate safe places for your cat to chill, nap and keep on an eye on the household?
  • How do you help your cat establish a territory and maintain the scent profile of the home?

I have recently moved from my townhome of 13 years into a 2 story, unattached house. Placing cat resources is a work still in progress – here is my “first cut”. Join me and take a look at the placement of my cats’ resources and the pros and cons of my choices. I hope you enjoy The Purrade of My Home!

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Cats plays with featther toy1
Zelda plays with a feather toy at the end of a wand.

Providing opportunities for predatory play is one of the components of a cat-friendly home. Like people, cats are individuals, with different tastes and experiences. This certainly is one reason for the large variety of cat toys at the pet store. But what if your cat does not want to play?

Some cats like to play more than others


A group of researchers observed the responses of 31 cats to toy balls, a fishing pole style toy with a soft bird shaped toy at the end, and recorded sounds of a chirping bird, a squeaking mouse, crumpled paper and a rustling plastic bag. Thirteen of these cats were indoor-outdoor cats; the remaining 18 were indoor-only cats.

What did they find out?

  • Indoor-only cats touched or played with balls sooner than indoor-outdoor cats.
  • Indoor-only cats started searching earlier for playback sounds (chirping, squeaking etc) than the indoor-outdoor cats.

Why do indoor-only cats like to play more than outdoor cats?


The two groups of cats had close relationships with their owners: the main difference was that one group had access to the outdoors.

The indoor-outdoor cats most likely had experience with actual prey animals. Live prey can “fight back” and cause injury to the hunter, so a slower, more cautious approach may be smarter.  The indoor-only cats don’t “know any better” and showed a more intense interest in and faster response to “simulated prey”, not having had any negative experience with hunting things.

Should I try to play with my indoor-outdoor cat?


Yes, play with your indoor-outdoor cat. Play is part of the regular, positive interactions we have with our cats. The need to hunt defines who your cat is – this is what he was born to do. Although he gets a lot of stimulation while outdoors, a short, regular play time helps reinforce the cat-owner bond.

It may be a bit more difficult to find that thing he’ll play with, compared to an enthusiastic indoor-only cat. 

Cat using food puzzle

My experience with “Gus, A former street cat”


  • Gus has always enjoyed “treat toss” ( I throw dental treats for the cats to chase and eat).
  • He is not interested in the feather and mice toys at the end of a wand.
  •  He occasionally plays with catnip toys and balls.
  • After two years, he has agreed to chase a pair of tied-together shoe laces down the hall and has his own preferred food puzzle.

My indoor-only cat just won’t play with anything


Cats are individuals and some cats like to play more than others. Yes, try to entice your cat to play. It can take longer to find out what some cats will play with. It may take a few tries before they become interested enough to chase that shoelace, mouse toy on a wand or the crumpled ball of paper you throw down the hallway.  If the cat walks away, then try again another day.

  • A play session around the same time everyday lets them know what is going to happen.
  • Be alert to possible frustration – your cat needs some reinforcement intermittently to keep her playing the game.
  • Use the laser pointer to point to a treat when ending the laser tag session.
  • Let her catch the toy on the wand and chew on it occasionally during a play session. 
  • End the play session with a game of “treat toss”.

Playing with more than one cat


Even if cats are not part of the same social group , they can still manage a joint play session. Cats are good at “time-sharing” – taking turns while another cat plays. Often they will have different preferences, so they will wait for “their toy”. Cats are often very willing to wait if there is a treat session at the end (after all, hunting requires patience!)

The importance of predatory play…


It is true that some cats like to play with toys or chase treats more than others.  But every cat has a hunting heritage and helping him use it strengthens the bond between you and your cat.

Tips for playing with cats


Play and Treat time is a meal

  • Cats do better physically and emotionally eating multiple small meals daily.
  • Restricting access to food (meal feeding) can make treat time a bit more special.
  • Include the treats in your cat’s daily calorie count.

Play and treat time – a positive, predictable interaction for your cat

  • Cats like to play with a variety of toys – have several boxes of toys that you rotate.
  • Marinate some of the toys in catnip or silvervine.
  • Play sessions do not need to be more than 5 minutes or so per cat.
  • Put all interactive toys away when playtime is over.

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cat with toy box

How do I know if my cat has a good quality of life? Take a minute and look at your cat’s life to see if the positive experiences outweigh the negative ones.

Quality of Life or QOL is just what it says – what is the quality of health, comfort and happiness experienced by an individual human or animal? Assessing QOL can help you decide which treatment to choose for a sick pet or help you improve your cat’s welfare.

QOL tends to come up when a pet is ill and euthanasia is being considered. Because of this association with end of life, evaluating quality of life is often neglected at other times in life. 

When my older cat was not doing well recently, I was thinking about her QOL.  It occurred to me that QOL is something that we should be aware of and assess regularly. It is a good idea to evaluate this when we feel our cat is healthy and happy so that we have a comparison for when he is sick, in pain, or feeling insecure or threatened.

If a cat has a good quality of life, he will have many positive experiences and have few negative experiences.

Let’s start with a cat’s basic needs…

  • Every cat needs a safe place – somewhere she can go, away from other pets and humans
  • He needs food, water and litter boxes that he can use without  being interfered with by other cats, dogs or humans
  • A stable environment allows a cat to feel confident and secure.  This environment is predictable, without too much physical change, and offers opportunities for positive experiences, say outdoor access to a backyard.
  • Interactions with humans and other pets should be pleasant and not frightening (so tell the kids not to run and shriek at the cat!)
  • Your cat is a born hunter so he needs to have opportunities for predatory activity – either through play or foraging toys.

How do i know if my cat has a good quality of life?


In addition to the basic needs, what about the needs of the individual cat? Pain, emotional state, presence of strange humans and other pets or environmental stress can impact quality of life. Let’s look at the Quality of Life of 16 year old Athena.

positive experiences


Cat with automatic toy

  1. Athena sleeps at the foot of the bed or under the covers when it is cold.
  2. She likes the treats she gets before and after having her twice daily thyroid medication.
  3. She likes to scratch on the scratching posts –  in the bedroom and by the door to the backyard.
  4. She will nap in her heated bed when it is cold or on the bed upstairs when it is warm.
  5. When the weather is nice, she will go out into the backyard.
  6. In the evenings, she enjoys a grooming session followed by some play with  a fishing pole toy or laser pointer.
  7. Her day finishes up with some dental treats.

 

Negative experiences


liquid medication for cat

  1. Athena gets another medication in the morning – a bitter liquid which she does not like.
  2. She does not like the other cats and prefers to avoid them
  3. She has arthritis and her joints hurt.
  4. Sometimes she is nauseated – she will approach her food, sniff it, but not eat.

Athena enjoys about 2 x as many positive experiences as negative experiences in her day. Although she suffers from arthritis pain and is not fond of other cats, she is still able to enjoy the positive things her environment offers her, such as going outdoors and engaging in predatory play. Overall, her QOL is good but here are some improvements.

  1. Giving food paste (for example, chicken baby food) before and after her bitter medication helps “get the bad taste out  of her mouth”. We end the medicating process on a positive note with her favorite dry treats.
  2. So that Athena can avoid the other cats, she eats from her own microchip-controlled feeder.  The other cats have learned that the feeder does not open for them.
  3. Athena receives an injection of joint protecting supplement to help alleviate her joint pain. She also has steps up to the bed and a heated bed to nap in.
  4. If she seems nauseated, she receives medication.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CAT HAS A GOOD QUALITY OF LIFE?


THE TAKEAWAY:


  • You want your cat’s life to have more positive experiences than negative experiences.
  • Make a list and see what the positive/negative balance is. Are there more positives than negatives? How can you improve things?
  • Compare and update lists before you take your cat in for his annual or bi-annual vet exam.
  • By being aware of your cat’s daily behaviors, you will be able to provide medical care and supportive care when needed, and preempt behavior issues.

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Cats plays with featther toy1

Keeping active physically has a lot of benefits for people. It helps your mind work better – you learn things more easily. Physical exercise helps increase your muscle mass and strength. It also tends to induce a positive mood or emotional state.

Exercising your cat can give your cat the same boost we get from physical activity. Unfortunately, just like us, it is easy for them to become couch potatoes.

My 16 year old, Athena, is the equivalent of an 80 year old person. She has developed osteoarthritis and chronic kidney disease. To help with the arthritis, I have provided her with steps to get places and litter boxes with lower entrances. This winter I bought her a heated bed which she really likes. I noticed, however, that she was spending an awful lot of time in this bed and not moving around as much.

Although heat increases blood flow and makes connective tissue temporarily more flexible, it also stimulates inflammation and swelling. So some heat is good for comfort but I wanted to reduce the inflammation associated with Athena’s arthritis and cheer her up a bit!

Exercising your Cat – A good Rx

  • Exercise reduces inflammation: Your body’s cells produce proteins called cytokines that regulate immunity and inflammation. Humans with arthritis who exercise produce more cytokines that reduce inflammation. Cells in cat’s bodies produce similar cytokines so exercise can also reduce inflammation in cats.
  • Exercise strengthens the muscles that surround joints making movement easier and less painful.
  • Exercise improves mood, memory, reduces anxiety and helps the GI tract to function better.

The TAKEAWAY: Daily play (exercise) is good for cats of all ages!

Here are some exercises to work into your cat’s daily play time.  Make sessions short and positive and work at your cat’s own pace.

Cat sitting up
Gus sits up on his hind legs.

More Please!:  Holding a treat or toy above your cat’s head, encourage him to sit up with his front feet off the ground for a few seconds. This is good for kitty’s core muscles.

Catch the bird:  A feather toy on a wand can encourage your cat to “stand up”, engaging his core muscles.

 

Catnip/silvervine Roll: If your cat enjoys catnip or silver vine, by all means indulge her. The catnip response lasts less then 10 min and often involves rolling around, which is good for kitty’s core muscles.

Cat walking on cushions
Athena has to shift her weight and balance to walk across the cushions.

Balancing: Have your cat walk over an uneven surface such as a bed or several pillows. She will need to shift her weight to keep her balance, exercising her legs, core, back muscles and more. She can follow a feather toy, target stick with food on the end or a trail of treats!

Strengthen back legs:  Following a string up the stairs or cat tree will put more weight on the rear legs. Alternate exercise: have kitty stand with his front legs up on some cushions or books so more of his weight is on his rear legs for a few seconds. Start low at first. Pet his head and reward him.

Strengthen front legs: Following a toy or string (slowly) down the stairs or cat tree will put more weight on your cat’s front legs.  Alternate exercise: you can use a soft towel or blanket around her lower belly to lift her hind legs, putting more weight on the front legs for a few seconds.  Start in a stationary position. Work up to going forward. Head rubs and treats will make this fun for your cat!

Cardio! Do a little play with the laser pointer, wand toys or shoelaces. Make sure to put these toys away when the play session is done.

Exercising your cat will help her to be happier and feel better. Less pain and better mood translates to better relationships for your cat with people and other pets! Remember, this does not have to take a lot of time: 10-15 minutes should do the trick!

 

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Cats and Catnip


cat and catnip plant
Gus enjoys some local catnip.

Cats and catnip- some cats love it; some cats are indifferent to the herb. What’s the story on catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family. Its scientific name is nepeta cataria. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which induces the “catnip response”:

  1. sniffing
  2. licking and chewing with head shaking
  3. chin and cheek rubbing
  4. rolling over and body rubbing

The catnip response is specific to the Felidae family – other mammals do not respond to nepetalactone. Lions, jaguars, leopards and domestic cats enjoy catnip; most tigers are indifferent to catnip.

About 2/3 of domestic cats show the “catnip response”. Since catnip does not elicit a response from all cats, a genetic element may be involved. Most cats in Australia do not respond to catnip and they come from a relatively closed genetic group.

Kittens show a catnip response  between 3-6 months of age (if they are sensitive). Before then, forget it!

Nepetalactone stimulates the cells lining the nasal cavity and not those of the vomeronasal organ. Smelling the nepetalactone induces the “catnip response”.  Although many cats nibble on catnip, nepetalactone is not effective orally. Cats can be fairly sensitive to catnip and even weak doses of nepetalactone may induce the “catnip response”.

Cats and catnip – why does catnip affect cats?


Catnip produces allomones, chemicals that transmit messages between species. Catnip plants release these allomones (nepetalactone is one of these) into the air to repel insects that may eat the catnip. Nepetalactones can repel insects as well as the synthetic repellent N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET).  Maybe catnip attracts insect-eating cats… 🙂

Cats and catnip and facial pheromones…


A recent study  that combined nepetalactone extract with feline facial pheromone had an interesting outcome. Cats exposed to the combination did not exhibit the typical catnip response but were more tolerant of human handling and having their blood pressure measured than cats exposed to the pheromone spray alone.

Why does catnip work?  We don’t really know.

  • Does nepetalactone stimulate natural pheromone production?
  • Does it change how pheromones are processed?
  • Does it reinforce the semiochemical message of the pheromones?

For cats not sensitive to nepetalactone


  • Three other plants induce the “catnip response”
  • Silver Vine – a plant from east Asia, has 6 compounds that are similar chemically to nepetalactone.  80% of cats respond to silvervine.
  • Valerian Root – Contains 1 compound with similar chemical structure to nepetalactone.  50% of cats will respond to valerian root.
  • Tartarian Honeysuckle can also elicit a response in cats and is considered safe.   Honeysuckle appeals to about 50% of cats.

Catmint


Catmints are also members of the mint family and belong to the genus nepeta.  They may contain a lower concentration of nepetalactone. While catnip is a leggy weedy plant with whitish flowers, catmints are bushy plants with showy purple or sometimes pink flowers.catmint plant

 

The catmint bush in my backyard does not induce the “kitty crazies” but it is a popular place – the resident and neighboring cats come to rub their heads against the shoots of the plant and sometimes nap in the center.

Cats sensitive to catnip really seem to enjoy it.  The “catnip response” lasts about 10-15 minutes and does not cause any long lasting effects.  If your cat  does not care for catnip, try some silvervine for a “kitty cocktail”!

 

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Sometimes there is trouble when we house a group of cats together in our home. How do we reduce the number of inter-cat squabbles?

Cats are socially flexible

  • they do fine on their own
  • they can live with other cats IF there are enough resources.

This is the sticking pointcats are territorial. Territory is all about resources – food, water, litter boxes, resting places.  Cat fights are frequently about territory and resources!

Cats of the same social group can often (but not always!) use the same resources at the same time. If cats do not belong to the same group, then they will often time-share, taking turns to use that heated bed every cat likes.

But sometimes even cats that are “BFF”’s have a spat. One answer is to “space” them – make sure there are enough resources spread throughout the house or apartment.

Space Cats Vertically > more space for everyone > Less fighting>less stress


Many cats like to perch up high. They have a great vantage point and can see who’s coming. Your apartment or house may have a small footprint but have you thought about the unused “cat space” up toward the ceiling?

cat tree access to high beam
A tall cat tree gives this cat access to a high resting place.

Vertical places can be valued resting places or alternate feeding stations.


We’ve all seen the videos and posts of those amazing cat houses but your vertical cat world does not need to be so elaborate or require as much work. It can fit in seamlessly to your decor.

cat trees


 

Cat trees, true to their name, have  small footprints and utilize vertical space. Some  have “hide boxes” for an undisturbed nap. A cat tree also can give a cat access to a high place or offer an alternate path to another part of the home.  Placing a tall cat tree next to a stair case might allow a cat to climb up and through the railing,  avoiding another cat on the stairs.

book shelves


Whether actually used for books or storage, the tops of book shelves can be a cat highway. “Step” bookcases can provide tasteful storage for you but give your cats a ladder to a valued resting place – perhaps the top bunk of a bunkbed.

access to stair landing
A “step ” bookcase gives a cat a different route to access  a stairway landing.

the top shelves of closets


  • Often unused space – after all the shelves are hard to get to. 
  • Good place for a secluded nap.
  •  A step ladder may get kitty up there. Baskets that  hang on the underside of the steps can give you storage.
  • Stack storage bins in a step configuration so your cat can climb to that top shelf 
  • An inexpensive single pole cat tree may provide access.

“Thinking  vertically” allows you to provide your cats with additional resting places and feeding stations. There will be less conflict if each cat can find his own space.

A stairway landing provides a feeding station, heated bed, and cat cube.

Release your inner cat and space cats vertically – spread out resting places and feeding stations!


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Cats have 40 x the number of odor sensitive cells in their noses as we humans do. They also have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouths to process odors. Cats communicate by smell.

For a cat, odors can be associated with a particular place or individual animal, identifying that place or animal.

Another way cats communicate by smell is through semiochemicals. Odors can contain semiochemicals, molecules that carry “messages” from one organism to another. The organism receiving the “message” responds with a change in physiology or behavior. 

Semiochemicals that carry “messages” between members of the same species are called pheromones. For cats, pheromones are used to mark territorial boundaries, advertise that a cat is ready to mate, or send greetings. Lactating mother cats also produce a blend of “appeasing” pheromones,  that make kittens feel safe and reassured when their mothers are nearby.

Cats release pheromones from glands in their bodies. These glands can be found in…

  • the lips
  • the cheeks
  • the pads of the feet
  • at the base of the tail
  • the area surrounding the teats in females.
Glands producing pheromones
Locations of the glands that produce pheromones in the cat.

 

Cats communicate by smell


When your cat rubs his cheeks against furniture or that corner wall, he deposits pheromones there. Researchers have separated secretions from the sebaceous glands in your cat’s face into 5 pheromone-containing fractions. The “F3 fraction” is thought to be a friendly greeting, marking the area as safe.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone (CAP) is released when the mother cat nurses her kittens. It is a message to the kittens that they are safe and secure – after all, mom is there!

Cats also release pheromones when they scratch, marking territory with another pheromone, FIS or feline interdigital semiochemical. The cat making the scratch marks also leaves behind his own individual scent, giving the next cat who comes along an idea of who left the pheromone message. As time goes on, the pheromones/scents change. This change in pheromones/scents  notifies the incoming cat when the previous cat was there.

You can buy synthetic versions of feline pheromones

  • Facial marking pheromones: Feliway Classic or Comfort Zone Calming
  • CAP: Feliway Multicat or Comfort Zone Multicat.

Using Pheromones to Communicate with Your Cat


Synthetic versions of the F3 fraction of the facial pheromones and CAP have been made with the intention of calming cats and reducing conflict in multi-cat households. 

Facial Pheromones F3 Fraction


  • Diffuser or spray
  • Diffuser: place in areas you want your cat to identify as safe and secure, for example, sleeping areas.  You may not need to use the diffusers all the time – after all, your cat or cats are most likely marking these areas themselves. However, the diffuser could give an added boost in times of increased stress, such as home renovation.
  • F3 spray can help with  urine marking. Clean the marked spots with enzyme cleaners (eg. Tide), followed by rubbing alcohol. When dry, spray the spot with one of the F3 sprays.
  • The F3 spray is also useful to discourage scratching. Try spraying the area you DON’T want scratched with the F3 spray and place a scratching post nearby.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone


  • Diffuser
  • This product can be useful in multi-cat households when introducing a new cat. Place the diffuser in the common areas where all the cats will congregate.
  • You may not need to use this diffuser all the time but it can give a boost during times of stress, for example, when one cat returns from a veterinary visit.

A product called Feliscratch contained a synthetic version of FIS. Feliscratch was applied to the scratching post to encourage cats to use it.  Although this product was effective, it has recently been pulled off the market due to flagging sales.

No Feliscratch?

  • Make scratchers appealing with treats or catnip
  • If your cat will knead a small fleece blanket, it is possible that this blanket may have FIS deposited on it.
  • Placing the blanket near a new scratching post may attract your cat to the scratcher.

How effective are pheromones in communicating messages to cats?


How receptive an individual cat is to pheromone signals may depend upon her experience.  A free-roaming cat or cat who is a member of a multi-cat household will use the signals more than an indoor cat who lives alone.

You can think of pheromones as those signs in the library asking you to KEEP QUIET or the NO SMOKING signs – there is always someone who is talking or smoking. Compliance is never 100%.

Since cats communicate by smell, synthetic cat pheromones allow us to add some basic messages when we are trying to change a cat’s behavior. Pheromones are best used in conjunction with other behavior modifications.

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