What can you do when your cat thinks outside the box?

Whether you are waiting for an appointment with your vet or are in the process of treating a medical condition, accepted guidelines (ISFM house-soiling guidelines) recommend that you do an environmental and social assessment of your cat and where he lives. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at your cat’s environment and what we might change  to resolve the house-soiling.

When Your Cat Thinks Outside the Box: First Aid


REDUCE THE TERRITORY OF THE HOUSE-SOILING CAT


The “core territory” is where the cat can rest, has shelter and feels safe from predators and other cats.
Consider temporarily confining the house-soiling cat to one or more rooms with all the cat’s resources – litter box, food and water stations, cat trees. This can make an anxious cat feel more safe – from the feline purrspective, he does not have as much area to defend from other cats, pets, and people.

DON’T HAVE THE SPACE?


  • Restrict this cat’s access to the soiled areas if you can.
  • If that’s not possible, try placing a litter box where the house-soiling is occurring.
  • If the cat starts to use the box, keep it in place for at least 2 weeks (ISFM house-soiling guidelines)
  • After two weeks of consistent use, you can gradually move the box to a more suitable location. Go very slowly for best results!

DAMAGE CONTROL


  • Use an enzymatic cleaner to clean the soiled areas.
  • If your cat is spraying, set up a spraying station: a litter box oriented vertically. Line walls and floor with plastic to minimize damage to wallboard and flooring.
  • There is a risk of a cat marking the cleaned area, so “clean and cover”, as described above.

When your cat thinks outside the box – A CLOSER LOOK AT YOUR CAT’S ENVIRONMENT


  • Sketch the floor plan of your house.

    House Map
    A house map showing areas where house-soiling has occurred.
  • Mark the location of doors, windows, stairways, closets and major pieces of furniture. Mark the location of litter boxes, feeding areas, water stations, scratching posts and sleeping areas.
  • Mark where and when (extra credit!) the house-soiling has occurred.

ELIMINATION: SOCIAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL?


The house map can give us an idea of whether the elimination problem is due to your cat’s environment or if the elimination problem is social, arising from negative interactions with other cats, pets or people.

WHERE DOES “X MARK THE SPOT”?


  • Near door and windows where outdoor cats come? social?
  • Right next to the litter box? environmental?
  • On laundry piles or bath mats? environmental/social?
  • On your bed? social?
  • Quiet corners? environmental/social?
  • Near a noisy appliance? environmental?

AN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT: The litter box


ENOUGH BOXES?

  • Even this question is not straightforward. But let’s start with the commonsense basics. There needs to be more than one box even for one cat.
  • Some cats prefer to use one box for urine and the other for feces.
  • In a multi-story house, there should be a litter box on every floor the cat frequents.
  • The rule of thumb is #litter boxes = # cats + 1 but this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • Litter boxes need to be separated – cats view litter boxes next to each other as a single litter box.

SIZE MATTERS


The litter box needs to be large enough for your cat to turn around. This box is large enough for Gus.

How big are the boxes? Cats may turn around a few times before eliminating. The litter box needs to be large enough to accommodate this motion. The rule of thumb here is 1.5 times the cat’s length from nose to base of tail.

CLEAN ENOUGH?


A study sponsored by Nestle-Purina found that cats prefer a litter box free of clumps of urine and pieces of stool, so scooping the litter box frequently may avoid house-soiling problems. If you do not scoop the boxes daily, you may need more boxes and/or larger boxes.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION


  • Litter boxes should be separated and not in areas a cat can be “trapped” in. Avoid high traffic areas frequented by lots of people and other pets.
  • Avoid areas with noisy appliances. Remember that cats have one of the broadest ranges of hearing of any land mammal, hearing the low tones of the human male voice and the ultrasonic squeaks of mice. Even our electronic gizmos may be emitting sounds that can make a litter box area unpleasant.

ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS


To break the house-soiling habit, we need to REWARD the cat for using the litter box. We can do this by making the litter box more appealing and pleasant to use.

Offering a new litter box is one way to break the habit of soiling in an inappropriate place.

  • Consider larger boxes with a cut out to allow easy access.
  • High-sided boxes will work for cats who spray or stand up to urinate.
  • It is best to ADD litter boxes at first. Once the cat has accepted the new box, you can remove the older one.

LITTER BOX CAFETERIA


  • Putting several litter boxes side by side with different fillers (include the original) can give you an idea what kind of litter your cat prefers.

KEEP IT CLEAN!


  • Consider having a “Litter Genie” or other disposal system next to each box so that it is convenient to scoop the box frequently.

THE BATHROOM IS SAFE!


  • Some cats respond positively to pheromones. The “Feliway” Classic or Comfort Zone calming diffusers give a message of security and calmness.
  • For cats who are spraying or marking, these analogs of facial pheromones tell your cat that this place is already marked.
  • You can also collect your cat’s individual scent and apply it to the area around the box – wood moldings, walls…

NO SNACKS IN THE BATHROOM!


  • Locate food and water away from the litter box. Cats do not eat where they eliminate and a litter box near food may discourage its use for elimination.

House-soiling can be a difficult puzzle to solve. When your cat thinks outside the box, it may be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. A house map can help you locate the problem areas and optimize your cat’s environment. In the next post, we’ll use the house map to look for social problems that may be why your cat thinks outside the box.

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A common complaint of cat owners is that their cat does not always use the litter box. This can be a nuisance – cat urine can have a strong odor particularly if the cat is not neutered or spayed. Soft stools can be a challenge to clean up. I am always surprised at how many people accept the “out of the box” incidents and use potty pads or towels to manage the mess. What can you do if this happens to you?

Why your cat thinks outside the box


There are  a number of reasons cats may think “outside the box” and don’t use their litter boxes.  Sometimes, it is a marking behavior.  Other times, the litter box does not meet feline requirements, the cat is sick, or another cat is “guarding” the box.  These are just a few of the reasons that may lie behind feline house-soiling.

Marking


Cats use urine to mark territory, advertise for a mate or let other cats know that Mr. Fluffy has been here (feces may also mark terrritory but urine is more common in domestic cats). The urine mark not only gives information as to the sexual status and general health of the marker, it also has a “time stamp” indicating when the mark was made. Cats, being solitary hunters, avoid confrontations to reduce the risk of injury. This “time stamp” may help cats avoid encountering each other.

Such urine marking is often but not always sprayed on vertical surfaces. It is typically characterized by small amounts of urine. This is usually a behavior of intact males and sometimes females but can occur with neutered or spayed animals. (Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery 16(7):545, 10.1177/1098612X14539085)

PROBLEMS WITH THE BOX


  • Box is too small
  • Box is in a busy location near noisy appliances or in a high traffic area
  • Box is located near a window where neighborhood cats come
  • Box is not clean – remember to scoop at least once a day

A research team at Nestlé Purina found that cats prefer to use unused litter boxes. However, this preference for unused boxes did not seem to be due to odors. Cats did not seem to care whether or not the litter box smelled of urine or feces. But cats did not want to use litter boxes with actual urine clumps and feces nor did they want to use litter boxes with simulated urine clumps made from salt solution or “faux feces” made of gelatin. Ultimately, it appears that it is important to scoop frequently, removing physical obstructions from the litter box.

“Does previous use affect litter box appeal in multi-cat households?”
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2017.02.008

MEDICAL PROBLEMS


Pain and discomfort when eliminating can result in a cat associating the litter box with pain. Ongoing pain can be frightening for a cat and cause him to be anxious, exacerbating urinary and gastro-intestinal problems.  The cat may choose not to the use the litter box he associates with the painful elimination.

When your cat thinks outside the box, it could be due to medical issues, including:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Arthritis – can make it difficult for a cat to squat or step over a high side to get into the litter box
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Cognitive dysfunction in older cats ( Cat Dementia: How Can We Manage It?)
  • FIC (feline idiopathic cystitis) – (see “Is My Cat Sick from Stress”)
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Social problems


  • The litter box is being “guarded” by another cat
  • The family dog is coprophagic and “haunts” the litter box
  • A toddler wants to “play in the sandbox” too
  • A house guest kicks his shoes off and they hit the wall; the noise startles the cat in the box

When your cat thinks outside the box – make an appointment with your veterinarian.  Your vet can:

  • Assess your cat’s overall health
  • Collect blood, urine and stool samples for diagnostic screening
  • Take X-rays if there are concerns about bladder stones or arthritis
  • Prescribe pain medication
  • Prescribe anti-anxiety medication while house-soiling issues are being resolved

It is wise to act promptly when house-soiling issues arise. When house-soiling continues for a long time without resolution, we run the risk of “coping behaviors” becoming habits. For example, a cat may choose to urinate in the shower or bathtub, defecate in a quiet corner in the front entryway, or eliminate right next to the box. Once these behaviors are established, it is sometimes difficult to break these “bad” habits.

Our next post will look at what you, the cat guardian, can do to encourage new habits and help remedy house-soiling, when your cat thinks outside the box.

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Kitten with adult cat

You have decided that you want to get another cat. Why not a kitten? A kitten is young; he or she should be adaptable and open to new experiences. Right?

Before you go to the shelter or call a breeder, think first of your resident cats: their ages, health and life experience.

Introducing Kittens to Older Cats


Scenario #1:  senior cats


Let’s say your oldest cat is ten years old, comparable to a 56 year old human. She still is up for a rousing game of “chase the feather bird” but she is not forever pouncing on toys. She is still jumping pretty well but does spend a lot of her time in sunny spots, snoozing and soaking up the warmth.

Her health is pretty good for her age but she most likely has started to develop arthritis. You don’t know much about her early life (she was a rescue) but she gets along fairly well with the now 7 year old male cat you adopted when she was 3 years old. You recall that it took some time for them to accept each other but they will snuggle together in winter and groom each other’s heads from time to time.

If you could ask your two senior cats if they want a kitten roommate, they would probably say “No, please maintain the status quo”.  An energetic kitten may be more than they want to deal with. However, the two cats form an established social group, know the rules of feline etiquette, so there is a good chance that introducing a new cat will be successful.

The newcomer may or may not be accepted whole-heartedly into this social group. You may end up dealing with two social groups – your older cats and the kitten. Think about getting two kittens, ideally from the same litter. They will form their own rough and tumble social club and the older cats will not need to join the fracas unless they want to.

scenario #2: the single young adult cat


In this case, you have a young male cat about 1 year old.  You adopted him when he was a 10 week old kitten and he has been the only cat in the house since.  He is still rambunctious and playful.  You feel he would benefit from a younger companion.

Although this cat is still young, his socialization with other cats stopped at 10 weeks. He may tend to view a kitten more as an object, a toy to be played with, than a member of a social group.  The introduction process could be more complicated than introducing kittens to older cats that have been socialized. This young, single cat will benefit from training and possibly medication to put him in a relaxed emotional state while meeting his new roommate.

The Nuts and bolts of introducing kittens to older cats


It is wise to follow the basic rules of introducing cats in both scenarios.  Give your resident(s) time to get used to the idea of sharing the house with a furry newcomer. Start with:

  1. Scent exchange
  2.  Time-sharing of common areas
  3. Visual introduction with a barrier in between.

Time with the barrier in between can give you an idea of how the older cat(s) and kitten(s) will react. Make sure everyone is offered high value treats and toys and consider having a helper so there is a person on either side of the barrier. Have a sheet or blanket to cover the barrier if needed.

cat on leash
Zelda walking indoors on her leash.

 

Consider harness/leash training both kitten(s) and adult cat(s).  The harness/leash can give you more control over the visitations by regulating how cats approach each other.  A leash can keep a rambunctious kitten from pouncing on a senior cat; a leash can help keep an overstimulated young adult cat from relentlessly pursuing a kitten.

 

 

A word to the wise…


  • Assess the medical and social history of your resident cat(s) when planning to adopt a new kitten or cat.
  • Go slowly when introducing kittens to older cats – an older cat can hurt a young kitten.  Supervision is a must!
  • Watch everyone’s body language: take a step back if there’s a lot of hissing and growling.
  • Always be ready to separate fighting felines!

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Marley looks at the whiteboard with the daily routines for the pet sitter.

The alarm goes off. You tap the OFF button, then stretch and sit up. Another work day. You get up, feed your cats, and grab a quick cup of coffee and bowl of cereal. You breeze through a shower, get dressed and leave for work.

Or you may be packing lunches and making sure the kids are dressed and fed for school.  You are on automatic pilot, going through the motions efficiently. You have done this many times before – you have a morning routine.

A routine is a set of things that you regularly do to get something done. Routines bring order to our day and save us time because we get more proficient at the steps through repetition. They reduce the effort we expend on doing things because they don’t require conscious thought – you can cruise through on autopilot.

Routines help cats: routines reduce stress


Routines help cats much in the same way routines help us – they bring order to a cat’s day and the security of knowing what is going to happen.  In this way, routines help to reduce stress and anxiety.  They are familiar and soothing.

A wild cat colony has routines.  The colony may sleep through the day waking in the late afternoon to get ready to hunt at dusk, when prey such as mice become active. Then follows a sequence of hunting every few hours as their stomachs empty and they are able to eat again, winding down at dawn. Between feedings, the group will snooze, groom each other or sometimes  play with kittens or other adult cats.  (See Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, “Cat Behavior: Social Organization, Communication and Development”, I. Rochlitz (ed.), The Welfare of Cats, 1–22. 2007 Springer)

Our domestic cats are synced to our routines: waking with us, anticipating being fed, watching us go to work, and waiting for us to return home. Obviously, we want to feed the kitties around the same time every day. However food, water and clean litter boxes are not your cat’s only requirements. Cats also need consistent, regular human interaction and opportunities for predatory play. Environmental Needs of Cats

Human interaction and playtime


These are best incorporated into a daily routine, say playtime after dinner or as part of a “bedtime” routine. Routines help cats and owners – the routine makes it easier for you to ensure your cat gets regular interaction (once established, you can cruise through on autopilot); your cat benefits from the fun and enrichment of interaction and playtime.

His little cat brain does not have to worry about what will happen next. This reduces his stress and anxiety, and gives him a sense of control – he know what’s going to happen.  Maintaining his routine can be particularly helpful to your cat in times of stress – playing with a familiar toy not only distracts your cat, it is also soothing.

Make Sure to Maintain Routines


  • when traveling with your cat (as best you can)
  • when entertaining house guests
  • when introducing new pets
  • when you are away, ask pet sitters to follow your cat’s daily routine

Routines help cats from becoming bored


A routine provides a venue to establish some “good” habits and learn new things. Accepting medication can become a habit – cats will learn quickly to accept “dummy” pills in treats if they do this regularly.

Mix up the routine from time to time – change is part of living. For example, in the medicating routine, you may wish to introduce and practice other ways of offering a pill to your cat – say with a pet piller or offering a “dummy pill” in a squeeze up treat.

 

Example of an evening routine


  • medication time (real or practice with treats)
  • treat toss or playing with interactive toys (predatory play)
  • food puzzles (foraging/hunting)
  • brushing teeth

Consider including a training session in your cat’s daily routine. Take some time and make a list of what you want to teach your cat then pick a new skill each week to do. You will be more likely to get it done if it is part of the routine!

Routines not only bring order to our day, our routines help cats by giving them a sense of control and security, reducing stress and anxiety. Take a few minutes to set up a daily routine for your cat – have him learn new things, enjoy some grooming, play time, or food puzzles!

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Cats are the only domesticated animals whose ancestors are solitary. Horses, dogs, birds, cattle, pigs –  all are descended from animals that instinctively formed social groups (herds, packs, flocks…).  Cats are what we call “socially flexible”.  A cat can be quite happy living on his own but he may join a cat colony (group of cats) if there are plenty of resources – food, places to sleep. 

Cats formed a social structure to live alongside humans


The domestic cat’s ancestor, the African wildcat, is a solitary hunter, and does not spend much time with other wildcats unless it time to mate.  10,000 years ago, wildcats were drawn to the wealth of prey found in and around human settlements. Wildcats that could tolerate other wildcats nearby could share the feast. These are the ancestors of our domestic cats today.

Cats are popular pets with a small footprint.  It is not uncommon for a cat owner to want adopt another cat.  But how do you know if the cats will like each other? What if they fight? 

If there is sufficient food, cats will form social groups called colonies. The colony is often a collection of smaller social groups of cats. Cats belonging to a particular social group, will share food, water, latrine areas, sleeping and resting places. Different social groups will take turns using critical resources such as food, water, etc. 

Introducing Cats


Gradual step-by step introduction mimics what we see in feral cat colonies. The newcomer initially stays on the periphery of the colony and gradually is accepted by the colony members over time. (See Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, “Cat Behavior: Social Organization, Communication and Development”, I. Rochlitz (ed.), The Welfare of Cats, 1–22. 2007 Springer)

A few years ago, I wrote “Introducing cats: A Short Guide” for my website. The “Short Guide” recommended a step-by-step process for introducing cats.  With the new cat in his own separate room, the first step involved exchanging bedding between the new cat and the residents.  Subsequent steps allowed the cats to explore each other’s areas while the other cat is out followed by feeding the cats and playing with toys on either side of a door that is closed at first then opened later.

I still recommend the same step-by-step gradual introduction but have made the following updates:

  • Eating is not a social activity for cats. Wild cats prefer to take their mouse away from other cats and dine alone.  But food still is a way to make cats feel good.  So, instead of using your cat’s regular meal to make interacting with the newcomer positive, we will use special treats and toys. The cats can continue eating their regular food at the usual time and place. After all, why spoil your meal by eating with someone you don’t know and may not like.
  • Many cat introductions have been done with a door that is ajar and then gradually opened wider and wider. Over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that it is worth investing in a screen, stacked baby gates or other barrier you can see through. You have the flexibility of being able to cover this barrier quickly with a sheet to interrupt a fixed, direct, aggressive stare between cats; if one cat “rushes” at the other, the barrier is there to prevent a cat fight.
  • Another epiphany I have had is that using a carrier (even if it is large and covered with a towel) for supervised visitations is not ideal. The cat in the carrier may feel trapped and unable to leave an unpleasant situation. On the other hand, harness and leash can provide us more control when starting visual contact and supervised visitations – we can deter cats from rushing up to the barrier or perhaps even avoid a cat fight.

 

A cat plays with a toy near closed door during a cat introduction.

 

When introducing cats, it is best to go slowly – it is better to take baby steps and only have to back up a little if something goes wrong. Of course, make sure to monitor each cat’s body language and demeanor. Each cat is an individual – I have had some cats get together in a matter of days while other can take months. Try to avoid the temptation to rush ahead so that the barriers can come down – the  house may still be separated into hostile camps.

 

Make sure to visit the updated web page Introducing Cats: A Short Guide

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Cat with July 4th colorsDoes the color of your cat’s coat mean anything? Is there a link between coat color and temperament in cats?

Black cats are often associated with the occult; orange cats tend to be regarded as friendly.  Calico and tortoiseshell cats – those cats with tri-colored coats – are considered strong-willed and difficult to work with.  There is even a term – “tortitude” – to describe these cats!

In a study published in 2016, researchers at UC Davis decided to look into whether there is a link between coat color and temperament – in particular, do cats with particular colors of coats tend to be more aggressive? Cat owners were recruited online to fill out a survey about their cats. The team received 1,274 responses that they analyzed with statistics. 

Owners scored their cats for

  • aggression toward humans
  • aggression when being punished, petted, or brushed
  • aggression when in the veterinary clinic

Aggression toward humans scored the frequency with which a cat reacted with aggressive or affiliative behavior to people. A 6 point scale was used ranging from 0 = never through monthly, weekly, up to 5 = daily.  Behaviors included hiss, bite, slap/scratch, bite/scratch and stalk (play), groom/lick, curl up next to, approach and greet with head/body rubs.  The possible range of scores was 0-20.

Aggression from handling scored the likelihood that the cat would react to being punished, petted or brushed by hissing, biting, slapping or scratching.  Scores ranged from 0 = unlikely to 3 = very likely. The maximum score possible was 27.  Aggression during the veterinary visit was also scored from 0 = likely to 3 = very likely but with a maximum score of 9.

Overall, the aggression scores are rather low in all three categories.  For example, in the “human aggression” category, high scores were 2-3 out of 20.  Female cats had higher scores overall but the research team felt the difference to be small enough that they could combine the sexes in the overall study.

Coat color and temperament – findings


Tortitude


The calico and tortoiseshell cats were found to have some of the higher scores (2.47) for aggression toward humans (Gray and white cats scored 2.26 – so not much different than the tri-color cats). 

  • These scores are not very high scores out of a possible 20. 
  • Calico/tortoiseshell cats are predominantly female (the tri-color pattern is linked to the X chromosome making the combination of 3 colors very rare in male cats).  Female cats were found to be a little more aggressive than male cats in this study and this sample would have had more females.
  • Perhaps, the stereotype of the “strong-willed” tri-colored female cat affected how respondents scored their cats.

other findings


  • Gray and white cats, both female and male, were more aggressive toward humans and when being handled. 
  • Black and white male cats scored higher than other groups of male cats in human-directed aggression.
  • Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in aggression among cats at the veterinary clinic.

Although the results of this study seem to support the stereotypes of cat color and aggressive behavior, e. g. “tortitude”, it is best to take these results with a grain of salt. 

  • Overall, the scores for aggression to humans and when being handled were quite low.
  • The questionnaires were completed by the owners and there will be some differences in the way people interpret and score things.
  • Stereotypes may have affected how respondents view their cats and scored them.
  • The questionnaires did not involve a random sample of cats and cat owners but cat owners who voluntarily signed up to fill out the forms. These could be potentially more interested and “saavy” owners.
  • There will be differences in how people approach and handle their cats.

At the Battersea Dogs and Cats home, cats were more friendly with humans after the human volunteers watched a video demonstrating how to  interact with cats. ( see “Practical Guidelines for Interacting with Cats” )

The link between coat color and aggressive behavior does not seem particularly strong.  Such information could be useful to cat owners, shelters, and veterinary clinics to allow them to anticipate what behaviors they may encounter. But as the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  A cat’s coat color is only part of the story – it is important to assess each cat as an individual.  Approach him or her respectfully following the CAT guidelines.

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Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

Feeding the older, skinny cat can be a challenge. Older cats do not digest food as efficiently as younger ones and can require more calories. Due to disease and natural aging processes, the older cat often suffers from a reduced appetite. Reduced appetite means that less food is eaten. Less food eaten means the cat will lose weight and muscle mass.

Reduced appetite in the older, skinny cat can be due to:

  • Chronic kidney disease which can cause nausea
  • Pain due to dental disease or arthritis
  • Decreased odor and taste sensitivity (part of the aging process).

How can you get your older, skinny cat to eat better?


  • Offer a palatable food with the appropriate nutrients
  • Feed her in a way that mimics a cat’s natural behavior
  • Use appetite stimulants if necessary

 

palatable, nutritious food


“Senior” Diets

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State, Colorado State, and University of California, Davis found that the only difference between commercially available “senior”diets and the adult diets was that there was higher fiber in the senior diets. So find an adult food your cat likes – preferably one that has been evaluated in a feeding trial.

A therapeutic diet may be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat has kidney disease or another medical condition.

 

“Aging Cats Prefer Warm Food”

Ryan Eyre and colleagues investigated the effect of temperature on how much older cats eat. Thirty-two cats between 8 and 14 years of age participated in a “two bowl” study of a chunks and gravy food at different temperatures.  The food was refrigerated or heated as needed to 43° F , 70 °F and 98 °F.

In a series of trials, each cat was presented with one bowl of colder food and a second bowl of warmer food. The amount of food consumed by the cats was recorded. The researchers also measured 1) thickness of the gravy at the different temperatures and 2) the volatile compounds released when the food was heated.

What they found:

  • There was no change in gravy thickness with temperature, so the texture of the food remained the same.
  • Heating increased the release of volatile compounds associated with a “meaty” flavor
  • Heating decreased the amount of volatile compounds that give rise to scents like orange peel

The cats preferred the warmer food in each of the pairs tested. They overwhelmingly preferred the food heated to 98 °F.

Other reasons cats may like warmed food:

  • The warmest food had a temperature similar to the prey a wild cat would eat – so maybe a little bit of instinct is at work here.
  • Heat is thought to activate taste receptors. Cats are thought to have about 470 taste buds and have taste receptors that detect salt, sour, bitter, and umami (meaty). So, heating food may also make it more palatable to cats by making it taste more “meaty”.

Heat your cat’s food before serving it – make sure to test before feeding. It should be “baby bottle” warm

Feeding your older, skinny cat: mimic natural feeding behavior


  • Feed small meals frequently
  • Use food puzzles to engage the cat in foraging behavior
  • Put food out in different locations
  • Consider elevated feeding stations for arthritic cats
Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

Reduce inter-cat stress in multi-cat households

medical intervention – appetite stimulants


  • Mirtazapine: Tetracyclic antidepressant that stimulates appetite in cats.  Mirtazapine comes in pills and a transdermal ointment called mirataz. Mirataz is FDA-approved for cats.
  • Capromorelin stimulates the production of Ghrelin, a hormone your stomach produces and releases. It signals your brain when your stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. Capromorelin (Elura) comes in an oral liquid for once daily administration. It was developed to manage weight loss in cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Make sure your old cat eats – fasting longer than 2-3 consecutive days can result in hepatitis lipidosis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly 

Keeping your older, skinny cat well-fed is essential to maintaining a good quality of life for him or her.

Warm canned food

Feed small meals frequently

Talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant if necessary.

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cat gets harness and treat
Gus enjoys a treat while being harnessed

Training your cat to a harness and leash can come in handy even if you don’t plan to take him adventuring.

Training your cat to a harness and leash: Benefits


  • Enrichment for your cat
  • Extra security if you are traveling
  • Useful for introducing your cat to other animals

ENRICHMENT: With one of the broadest hearing ranges of any land mammal, a keen and discriminating sense of smell, and vision that tracks fast moving prey, the great outdoors is stimulating for a cat. Even if your kitty has a catio, leash time is special time, allowing him or her a chance to investigate new places and to spend time with you.

SECURITY WHILE TRAVELING: If you are traveling, having a leash and harness on your cat gives you some extra security during flight layovers, customs checks, or taking a break when driving. You can have an “extra hand” while changing soiled pads in the carrier or allowing your cat to stretch her legs.

INTRODUCING OTHER ANIMALS:  Once you have passed the scent swapping stage and feel the animals are ready for the next step, you can have the them “meet” with a barrier in between. Having your cat on leash and harness can give you more control over encouraging calm behavior around the new arrival. If your cat wants to “rush” the barrier, gentle pressure on the leash can slow this down and avoid a hostile encounter. The leash can help us model the appropriate behavior of a slow, non-aggressive approach to the newcomer.

Training your cat to a harness and leash


I often hear that “my cats acts as if she were paralyzed when I put a harness on her – she just flops downs and won’t move”. There are a number of videos on the internet of cats being dragged along by the leash while laying down.

A Better Way


  1. cat on leash
    Zelda walking indoors on her leash.

    Like any new item, introduce the harness and leash separately. Pick a highly valued treat and train when your cat is likely to want to eat.

  2. Let your cat sniff the harness and offer him a treat.
  3. Reward him for letting the harness sit on his back or for putting his paws through the arm holes.
  4. Secure the harness, reward and remove.
  5. Allow your cat to become accustomed to the harness being on for increasingly longer periods of time. Distract him with treats and toys. If he knows how to target, use the targeting stick to encourage him to move forward while wearing the harness.
  6. Once comfortable with the harness, add the leash. Work with kitty inside at first, with the leash attached but not being held. It is a good idea to have your cat get used to dragging the leash behind so if you drop it mistakenly, the dragging leash won’t frighten her. You can use treats, a target stick or a toy on a wand to encourage her to move forward.
  7. Pick up the leash and go for a walk! Start indoors and do some laps around the house.

Walking outdoors


Walking outside may not be for all cats. Cats who have spent most of their lives indoors may find the great outdoors overwhelming and frightening. It may never be their “cup of tea”.

To give this the best chance of success, start slowly. If you are just going to the backyard, start with brief trips outside in a carrier that is covered (have her harnessed and leashed). Leave the door open and let your cat smell and hear the outside. Let her come out on her own, if she wants to. Gradually work up to allowing her to meander around the yard with you at her side.

If you are planning on venturing further, it is wise to have a “mobile safe place” – a stroller or backpack. Introduce these items gradually but let your cat guide you – I have had cats that jumped right into the stroller and quickly learned that the stroller meant shade and safety.

Walking a cat vs walking a dog.


  • Cats do not have the stamina of dogs. Cats have evolved to move stealthily and quietly, with short intense bursts of activity: running and pouncing. They do not have the stiff-legged gait of horses and dogs, who can walk and trot for long periods of time – cats will get tired and will need some way of being transported.
  • Cats will want to run and hide when danger presents itself. The backpack or stroller will keep your cat safe and comfortable when on a walk.
  • Is your cat walking you? Walking your cat is often you going where she wants to go. If you feel you need to direct her path, target training can help.

An essential skill for the “adventure” cat is recall – train your cat to come when called. This can be invaluable if the worst happens and he somehow gets away. He most likely will hide and not respond at first – give him some time to calm down and let his training kick in. Keep calling him or giving him his recall cue.

 

Training your cat to a harness and leash can come in handy when traveling or introducing new pets. It also can strengthen your bond with your cat as you both enjoy the flowers in the garden together!

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Art by Kal Meyer

“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast” is actually a misquote of the poem, The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve in 1697. The word “beast” is commonly substituted for the original word “breast”.  But perhaps Congreve actually meant “beast” – a similar reference to “savage beasts” and music is found earlier with the Roman poet Lucan, whose work was translated into English by Thomas May in the 1620’s.

“…Whose charming voice and matchless musick mov’d

The savage beasts, the stones, and senseless trees…”

Music can arouse strong emotions in people – it can help instill a martial spirit, make us happy but also make us melancholy and sad. It clearly effects our mood.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin set out to find music that would affect the moods of our cats. Snowden, Teie and Savage created music for domestic cats that would calm the cats. They observed the responses of cats to the “cat music” and compared these with the cats’ responses to classical music that humans find calming.

Human Emotions and Features of Music


Specific features of music induce particular emotions in humans:

  • Slow tempos, a narrow frequency range, decreases in pitch, longer sounding of the notes are characteristic of “sad” music
  • “Joyful” music features fast tempos, increasing pitches and notes tend to be more staccato and not held very long.
  • “Angry” music is louder and has a higher fundamental frequency; “fearful” music also has a higher fundamental frequency but notes are not held as long.

Snowden and Teie hypothesized that music with the features described above would affect cats in the same way as people, as long as the frequencies and tempos are the same as what is found in natural cat communication.

Cat Music vs Human Music


The “cat music” used in this study had an average pitch that was 2 octaves higher than the human music; it was also 1 octave higher than the fundamental frequency of natural cat communication  (“meows” and “howls” were excluded).

The “cat music” also included elements at lower frequencies for the listening pleasure of the cats’ human friends. One piece contained a pulse rate of 1380 bpm, similar to purring, with melodic sliding frequencies; another had a pulse of 250 bpm, similar to kittens suckling, also with melodic sliding frequencies.

 

Do cats like cat music?


Snowden, Teie, and Savage’s study compared the reactions of 47 spayed and neutered cats to the “cat music” with the cats’ reactions to the human music. Researchers watched for the following responses:

orient/approach behavior

  • orient head toward speaker playing music
  • move toward speaker
  • rub speaker
  • purring

Avoid/fearful behavior

  • leaving the room
  • hair on end
  • growling
  • hissing
  • arched back

results:


Cats showed more Orient/Approach responses to the cat music than the human music. They also approached the source of the cat music more quickly than the human music. There were few Avoidance/Fearful behaviors (9 out of 94 trials – same for both types of music).

Cats were more interested and responsive to music that was designed for them. These pieces were also composed to be calming, so perhaps it is not surprising that there were few “negative” behaviors seen in the cats’ responses to the music.  So, when choosing music for your cat, consider the features of the music and what emotional state they may induce.  Just randomly picking some classical music to play for your cat may not achieve the goals that you are looking for. 

Trying Out Cat Music


In 2019, the cat music was tested in the veterinary clinic at Louisiana State University. Twenty one cats completed the study. The cats presented for 3 examinations, two weeks apart. Each cat was exposed to one of three soundtracks : silence, cat music or classical human music. Each session included an examination and blood draw. The chosen soundtrack was played throughout the session, until the cat was placed back in her carrier.

Cat Stress Scores (CSS) were measured when the cat arrived, during the exam and at the completion of the blood sampling. A Handling Score (HS) was also measured during the examination.

The CSS and HS were not very different comparing cats exposed to silence and classical music; however, CSS and HS were significantly lower for cats exposed to the “cat music”.

cats prefer species specific music


Art by Kal Meyer

Cat music can help reduce stress-related behaviors.  I have found “cat music” useful to calm my kitties

  • when work is being done on my house
  • when I am transporting my cats in the car.

 

The cat music developed for the studies above can be purchased at https://www.musicforcats.com.

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Friendly cat greeting a humanCats live in a landscape of odors. Odors tell them about their world and its inhabitants. The signature odor or scent can play an important role when introducing a cat to something new – whether it is a another cat, dog, person or a piece of furniture.

Cats and signature scents


The signature scent is a collection of odors secreted by an individual animal. This signature scent is influenced by the individual’s hormones, diet, immune system and other animals that he hangs out with.  Using her superb sense of smell, a cat can learn a surprising amount of information from the signature scent of another animal.

  • gender
  • health status
  • sexual receptivity
  • fitness
  • are you part of my social group?

The signature scent gives the cat a way of identifying an individual animal. But, like the resume submitted by a job applicant, it is not the whole story. There is more to be learned by a physical encounter. A young cat may pick up the signature odor of an older cat with kidney disease and find this scent a little frightening – he has never met a cat that smelled like that before.  After he spends some time with this older cat, he learns that particular odor of disease is not going to hurt him.

Cats and signature scents: learning about other cats


Introducing cats to cats

Free-roaming cats live in colonies if there is enough food in the neighborhood. Each colony has its own signature scent. Members of the colony identify each other by this scent. This colony scent also marks the core territory of the colony, where the members feel safe, can eat, rest and play.

One of the first things we should do to introduce a cat to another cat is to swap scents. Each cat will pick up some of the other’s scent – it is the start to creating a sense of “colony”.

An easy way to do this is to exchange bedding between the two. Why choose bedding? We hope that the cats are relaxed and calm in their beds and so the scents and pheromones in the bedding should convey a message of calm and relaxation in addition to things mentioned above, such as gender and health status. On the other hand, bedding may not be the best choice if the cat is in pain and discomfort when in the bed. See below for other ways to collect your cat’s scent.

Exchange the scented items between the two cats before they have any visual contact. There may be some hissing and growling at the scented object but hopefully this will go away in a few days. You will need to renew the scented item every other day or so. If your cat ignores the item and just walks on by, then she is not disturbed by this new addition so far. You can proceed on to step 2 of Introducing Cats: “time sharing” the common areas and the newcomer’s room.

Collecting Your Cat’s Scent

In The Trainable Cat, Sara Ellis views scent collection as one of 9 key skills that form a foundation for training cats. She recommends getting your cat accustomed to the process.  The goal is to make scent collection part of a pleasurable experience.  There are several ways to collect your cat’s scent – use whichever way suits your kitty.

  • Use a clean, light-weight cotton glove while stroking the cat in front of the ears and under the chin and cheeks (behind the whiskers).
  • You can also collect hair from the brush you’ve used to groom your cat in these areas.
  • As mentioned above, you can place a small piece of cloth on your cat’s bed for him to lie on.

The more you touch/brush these areas or the longer your cat lies on the cloth, the stronger the scent.

from Bradshaw, John W. S. and Sarah L. H. Ellis. “The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat.” (2016).

Cats and signature scents: learning about dogs and humans


Scent swapping should be the first step in introducing cats to dogs and even humans.

  • A piece of the dog’s bedding is a way to start the cat-dog introduction. Follow the same steps used for introducing two cats.
  • Let’s say you have a pet sitter coming to care for your cat while you are away – you may feel awkward asking for a T-shirt prior to the pet sitter coming to your home but your cat may appreciate it!

Cats and signature scents: new items in the house


If you are able to collect your cat’s scent, applying it to a new piece of furniture just might keep your cat from scratching that new armchair ( Make sure to put a scratching post nearby!) Take something with your cat’s scent on it and wipe the new piece of furniture with it. Now, that chair or table smells familiar to your cat and its sudden appearance is not so scary.

Remember – Our homes are our cat’s territory; we are members of our cat’s colony. Our homes have the signature scent that makes our cats feel safe and secure. Please make sure to maintain the “colony scent”!

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