Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Litter Train a Cat

For most cat owners, training their cat to use the litter is a relatively painless process. It is among a cat's natural instincts to eliminate in an area that they can cover their feces in. This behavior may be a way of your cat accepting what they perceive to be as the natural order of dominance. In the wild feral cats will bury their feces if they are not at the top of their social hierarchy, if a feral cat does not bury his or her feces it is likely that the cat exhibiting that behavior is the dominant feline. So when your housecat buries his or her waste he or she may be recognizing your role as the dominant animal in their social community. It is also possible, however, that your cat may be displaying his or her inherited instinct to bury his or her feces in order to hide their trail from would be predators.
Generally kittens will learn the behavior of burying their feces and using the litter
through their mother once they are weaned assuming the mother is litter trained.
So if you bring home a young kitten of about 12 weeks, you may only need to
place kitty in the litter box and gently scratch the clean litter with your fingers
shortly after she eats to indicate to her what she is to do.


If your new cat doesn't take to litter training after your first few attempts you may
want to consider teaching her using another common method. Confine your new
addition to a small but comfortable room, preferably one with a hard floor if you
have one. Place both the litter box and the food dish in the room but don't place
them close to one another. Your cat will naturally not want to defecate near its food
source so she will look for another area. Eliminate any pillows, blankets,
newspapers, towels or other soft items where your cat may decide to eliminate from
the room before you close her in. If you have confined your cat to a room with hard
floors she is likely to avoid eliminating on the floor since urinating is likely to splash
back and get on her fur. The only remaining choice to the cat at this point is
(hopefully) the litter box.


If your cat was housebroken and all the sudden she seems to have
forgotten that instinct there are a few possibilities you might want to consider
before giving up.

1. Does Kitty Have A Dirty Litter Box? 

The most common cause of a
housetrained cat to stop using the litter is your cat
disagreeing with the level of cleanliness regarding her litter box. Your cat is more
likely to stop using the litter if she feels that it is too dirty. It is best to clean your cat's litter
every day or at the very least every second or third day. The dirtier a litter box gets
the less likely it is that your cat is going to continue to use it. Your cat wants to
eliminate in a clean environment and if she notices that every time she eliminates on
the carpet you immediately run and clean it up she perceives that as a more
desirable place to eliminate because it is so quickly cleaned. Keeping your cat's
litter as clean as possible is the best way to avoid this problem, and remember, what
you consider clean, your cat may not.
In addition to emptying the litter, you obviously need to change it from time to time
as well in order to ensure good cat health and cleanliness. Weekly changing is best,
this ensures that odors and wetness won't have too much time to build up to
unacceptable levels and it also reduces the likelihood of sickness due to high levels
of bacteria.

2. Stress. 

A cat eliminating outside of the litter box may also be a sign for
stress. The introduction of a new person or animal into the household may be putting a lot
of stress on your cat. Cats generally like to feel like they know what is going on and
what they can expect. If you upset that balance by introducing a new creature (even
a two legged one) into the household they may get stressed which can cause them
to eliminate outside the box.
If you leave your cat alone for long periods of time (for example while you take
vacations or go on business trips) and you come back you may
notice that your cat will sometimes seem aloof and standoffish. This is another
instance in which your cat may react with eliminating outside the litter box as a sort
of protest to what she perceives as being abandoned.
A new piece of furniture, or conversely, a newly missing piece of furniture may also
put stress on your cat. Order and comfort are important if you are a cat. If you
decide to get rid of that old fabric sofa because of it's ugly pea green color and
because it's falling apart at the seams and then you replace it with a brand new,
slick, top of the line, leather sofa with a refrigerator built into the side, and a
massage and heating function, your cat is unlikely to see this as a stylish upgrade
the way you would. What your cat will probably see is that one of her favorite nap
spots has disappeared only to be replaced by something she is unfamiliar with and
intimidated by.

3. Changing Litter Brands. 

Cats are creatures of habit and can also be quite finicky (remember Morris, the 9 Lives cat?). If you've recently switched the
brand of litter you usually buy this may be cause for your cat to find another place
to go. Some litters are perfumed (for humans rather than cats) and your cat may
not react well to these smells, or perhaps your cat was used to a less dusty type
of litter, a particular litter's texture, or who knows what. Changing brands or types
of litter may upset what your cat is comfortable with and the result may be a messy
carpet. If you suspect this to be the cause, you can either switch back, or
gradually introduce the new litter. Try mixing in a little bit of the new litter with the
older brand at first and gradually step up the percentage of the new litter each time
you change the box, eventually you will be able to replace the older brand
altogether. This will help your cat ease into the new litter brand rather than upset
her sense of the order of things.

4. Multiple Cats. 

As mentioned above a second animal may cause a cat to
begin to eliminate outside of the litter box, but this may not necessarily be the result of
stress. A second cat in your household should probably have his own litter box
unless your cats have proven they don't mind sharing. Again, remember cats are
clean creatures and they can be territorial as well. Some cats may not mind using
the same box, but others may refuse, which means again, the carpet becomes litter
box number two.

5. Litter Box Size Or Placement. 

 If the litter box does not provide enough
room for your cat she may not use it at all. Your cat will likely want to scratch around and be
able to feel comfortable in the litter box. Make sure it is roomy enough, easy
for your cat to get in and out of (the sides of the box should be lower for kittens
than for adult cats), and not in a high traffic area as cats seem to like some
degree of privacy when eliminating. Lastly, make sure your cat has access to the
litter at all times. Putting your litter box in a room that is closed on occasion is a
recipe for disaster. If your cat has to go and she can't get to the room that you've
put the litter in then she really will have no other alternative than to find another
suitable area to eliminate.

6. Medical Issues. 

Your cat may be experiencing kitty incontinence. Like
humans, incontinence can strike animals and this may be an indication of other medical
issues with your cat. As a cat ages, she becomes more likely to lose control of her
bodily functions just like a human does. If you suspect age or medical reasons may
be the cause for your kitty's litter box problems then you should take her to the vet
for an examination, advice and possible treatment to resolve the problem.


If your cat does make a mess outside of the litter box it is generally not good
practice to scold her or punish her. Putting her nose in the mess and then tossing
her in the litter is not going to solve your problem. Being upset with your cat is
natural after such an incident, but to display this behavior and then to put her in the
litter box is only making your cat associate the litter box with a bad experience.
Your cat may also begin to learn to be afraid of you, which is obviously not what you
want. Your best solution is to clean up the mess quickly. Put your cat in the litter
box and be friendly and speak in a calming voice with the cat. Scrape the clean
litter with your fingers and make sure your cat sees this behavior, hopefully it will
sink in. To avoid having your cat defecate in the same place outside the litter box a
second (or third) time, cover the area with a plastic sheet or something hard that
will result in your cat splashing herself with her own urine if she should chose that
place to defecate again. Clean the smell as best you can (white vinegar may help,
but make sure your furniture or carpet can handle it). You can also move her food
dish on top of or near the area that she used to defecate, a cat will not want to
defecate near her food source. If your cat uses the litter again, even just once,
reward her, play with her, pet her, give her a treat, make her associate the litter box
with a good experience rather than a bad one.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Cats Flip For Catnip

If you've ever watched as a cat "flipped" over fresh catnip perhaps you've been struck with the question; "what causes Catnip to affect cats that way?" Catnip is indeed an unusual phenomenon among cats, it has the ability to alter your cat's behavior like nothing else can. So what exactly is the reason for what scientists have coined as "the Catnip effect"?

Unfortunately for such inquisitive minds the exact reason of why Catnip affects cats in such a manner remains mostly a mystery. There is however much that we do know about Catnip and cats even if we don't have the ultimate answer of exactly "why?" yet answered.

The Science Stuff

Catnip is scientifically classified as Nepeta cataria and is a perennial herb from the mint family and is in fact also referred to as "Catmint". It is a plant indigenous to Europe but has been exported and is now found all over including the United States and Canada.

The active ingredient in Catnip is an oil; Nepetalactone, which is found in the leaves of the plant. This is the reason you are able to find Catnip in a bottle or spray form in some pet stores.

Other Uses For Catnip

Catnip is not only good to stimulate activity in cats, it can also be used by humans as an herb for a medicinal tea which may soothe toothaches, help against coughs, and may also perform as a sleep aid. Furthermore, Catnip can be used as an herb on salads or other foods as has been the case for centuries in France. Lately Catnip has also been garnering favor as a natural insect repellant rivaling the effectiveness of many store bought varieties of repellant.

Catnip and Kitty

Catnip affects approximately half of all cats. What determines whether or not a cat will react to Catnip is a genome that is inherited (or not inherited as the case may be) at birth. Kittens, regardless of whether or not they carry this genome, do not react to Catnip until reaching about 3 or 4 months of age and becoming sexually mature. Older cats are also more likely to have a diminished or non-existing reaction to Catnip, which leads scientists to believe that the Catnip effect is based at least partially on sexuality and that the reaction may be something like an aphrodisiac. Further adding to this belief is the similarity of a sexual pheromone found in the urine of the male cat to nepetalactone (the active product in Catnip).

Cats that can be traced to regions where Catnip is not indigenous appear to be unaffected by Catnip. The domesticated housecat is not the only cat that may be affected by Catnip. Larger cats can also be affected by the Catnip effect, felines such as the bobcat, lynx, tiger and even lion are known to react much the same way the common housecat would. It is interesting to note that while Catnip can act as a stimulant when a cat sniffs it, it can conversely act as a relaxant if ingested. Therefore, you may see a different, nearly opposite result depending on whether your cat chooses to eat the Catnip you provide for him/her or merely sniffs it (the latter being the more typical behavior).

How to Use Catnip With Your Cat

Catnip can prove to be a very useful tool for a few common problems with your cat. If you are lucky enough to have a cat that does react favorably to Catnip then here are a couple of ideas for you and your furry little friend.

Catnip and Lazy Cats:

Catnip can be used to get a lazy cat off his or her butt. Some cats are notoriously lazy, choosing to sleep much of their day away in a nice golden patch of sunlight on the living room carpet, only waking up to eat and gather some necessary attention from their indulgent owners. If this sounds like your cat, you may soon see (if you haven't already) that your cat is becoming more and more round. This is generally not a good thing. Catnip may be able to help. Presenting catnip to your cat encourages activity (of course provided the cat sniffs rather than eats the herb).

Many adult cats will respond to Catnip in a manner that resembles their childlike kitten hyperactivity, jumping, playing and running around as if it was given an injection of kitty adrenaline, which in essence, is the case. The effect of Catnip on a cat can last somewhere between two and fifteen minutes. If the latter is the case, then this is a decent amount of exercise and will help keep your cat a little more svelte than without a Catnip treatment. Furthermore, if you leave the Catnip out for a few hours then your cat may return to the herb later (an hour or two after the effect has worn off) and again react in an energetic fashion. So in this sense you may consider Catnip sort of like a kitty energy drink.

Catnip and Cats That Scratch Furniture:

If you have a cat that seems bent on the destruction of your furniture then Catnip may again be able to come to the rescue. Cats can be frustratingly picky about just about anything under the sun including where they want to sharpen their furniture destroying claws. It is not uncommon for a cat to damage or destroy a piece of furniture just because the owners finally gave up on trying to redirect their cat to the unused cat scratching post that set them back anywhere up to a hundred dollars and more. A good way to attempt to change this frustrating and expensive behavior is to rub some Catnip or Catnip oil on a scratching post that you are attempting to get the cat to use. Introduce your cat to the newly "Catnipped" scratching post and see how he/she reacts. If all goes well, your cat will sniff and inspect the post and then begin clawing at it. After a few times (you may have to re-Catnip the post) hopefully kitty will be trained to use the post rather than the sofa.

Using Catnip with Multiple Cats

If you've never used Catnip before and you have more than one cat it is advisable to try it out individually on each cat before introducing it to all of your cats at the same time. The reason is because Catnip affects some cats in a negative manner causing the cat in question to become aggressive rather than merely playful. Introducing it to your cats individually enables you to control the situation and keep a cat that may react aggressively isolated from your other cats. This of course means avoiding a possible catfight that could result in broken furniture, hurt kitties (possibly requiring a vet visit), annoyed neighbors (and probably owners), or a combination of all of the above.

Growing and Keeping Catnip

Growing your own Catnip can be rewarding as it can save you money, give you the satisfaction of doing something yourself and ensuring that you always get fresh, high-quality Catnip for your cat. A word of caution however; the exact kitty reaction you want to grow your own Catnip is something to be wary of. If you plan on growing your Catnip out of doors and other cats can access your Catnip garden then be prepared for unwelcome feline visitors. This may not be a problem for you personally, but cats are by nature territorial and if you have a cat that lives alone without the company of other cats this could prove to be an area of stress for your cat. Even if you keep your cat inside at all times, your cat may get agitated if he/she looks out the window to see another cat frolicking in territory your cat considers his or her own. If you choose to grow your Catnip indoors, be careful to keep it out of reach of kitty. Otherwise you'll likely have Fluffy jumping up on furniture even to the most out of the way place to get access to the tempting herb. Cats are great jumpers and not really known for respecting precious household knick-knacks. So if you do decide to grow it indoors for a cat that reacts to Catnip, be careful to grow it in a place that your cat won't be able to access it. A room that you always keep closed to the cat is probably the best solution for indoor grown Catnip.

If you do find that your cat reacts positively to Catnip you should be sure to use it sparingly so as not to dull the effect which can be the result of overexposure. A good rule of thumb is to not treat your kitty more than once a week on average to Catnip.

Given all the positive effects that Catnip may have on your cat you owe it to yourself (and naturally your fluffy little ball of affection) to see how he/she reacts to this strange and well known herb. It will provide enjoyment and exercise for your cat and most likely an entertaining show for yourself as well. It's a win win situation.