How to Build Great Temporary Cat Houses

Cats love having places to hide, and that’s one reason they like boxes so much. Boxes also have unfamiliar smells and are an unfamiliar sight, so they’re new places for your cat to explore. But sometimes, just leaving a box out is kind of boring. If you have several boxes, plus some masking tape, you can make cat houses out of them.

How do you make cat houses out of boxes?

Temporary cat houses are easy to make out of boxes. We just made one out of three delivery boxes. Two were taped together, with a hole cut in one of them to serve as a doorway between the two “rooms.” There’s a third box up on top, with holes cut to serve as a hatchway between the two. The box on top, and one of the boxes on the floor, also have holes that serve as entries and exits.

Most cats like enclosed spaces, and cat houses are a more interesting way to cater to that desire. Petplace says that small, snug places often make cats feel more secure. Things like boxes, laundry baskets, drawers, and more all fit the bill of a small, snug, defined place.

How our cats handle these kinds of cat houses

Of all the cat houses we’ve ever built, this is probably the most complex, and our cats don’t seem to know what to make of it just yet. Kali‘s been inside, and explored as much as she felt she needed to, but she never tried to get out the upper exit. She just pokes her head through the holes and hatchway, and looks at us.

We had to coax Aria to go in, and then she just turned around and came right back out. She wasn’t too fond of it, but that could have something to do with Kali sticking to her when she went inside.

Chase doesn’t even seem to want to go in, but he’s got problems with enclosed spaces when he’s not sure if he’s got a clear exit. Cat houses like this can be confusing at first, and it takes some exploration to find all the ways out. Chase needs his escape routes clearly marked.

We haven’t tried it with Gizmo, yet, but Gizmo loves places like this. She might go in and have to be coaxed out!

It’s important to remember that these cat houses are strictly indoor-only. If you’re looking to build outdoor cat houses for stray and feral cats, click here. Houses made out of cardboard boxes aren’t sufficient for the elements; however, if all you want is to make new hidey-holes for your cat inside, build some temporary cat houses out of boxes, and see what happens. You never know, it could become your cat’s favorite place.

Is Regular Vomiting in Cats Normal?

Some of us have, or had, cats that we termed “pukers.” These cats are the cats that vomit a few times a week, and we can’t figure out why. Even our vets can’t find a problem: They can’t find blockages; bloodwork and urinalyses are normal, and there’s no evidence of tumors. They just say, “Yep! Looks like you’ve got a puker here.” Did you know, though, that regular vomiting in cats isn’t normal?

We have a cat that we once thought was just a puker. Aria would eat, and sometimes she’d vomit right after eating. Other times, she’d vomit up huge hairballs. She was vomiting several times a week and it was a problem. Our vet looked for everything she could think of, and came up with nothing. Aria seemed healthy. She was just a puker.

She wasn’t losing weight vomiting up all that food, and it didn’t seem to be hurting her any other way, but think about it like this for a moment: Is vomiting that often in the wild really feasible? Is it natural for an animal that has both predators and prey to vomit that much?

Frequent vomiting can be a sign of something serious

Obviously, frequent vomiting can mean something serious. The ASPCA lists these possible causes of frequent vomiting: Colitis, pancreatitis, liver failure, kidney failure, heartworm infection, blockages, and more, are all there. If the frequent vomiting is new, whether your cat has other symptoms as well or not, you should take her to the vet to find out what’s going on.

Regular vomiting in cats isn’t normal, either, though

According to an article on Catster, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) decided to research regular vomiting in cats by reviewing the cases of a number of cats that were considered pukers. They ran bloodwork, performed various kinds of imaging, and basically, did everything they could think of to find out what, if anything, was wrong with these cats.

They concluded that regular vomiting in cats is not normal, even when it’s all hairballs, and not food. Regular vomiting in cats can be a sign of irritable bowel disease, which is a potentially serious condition for cats.

Furthermore, despite the fact that many of of us have been conditioned to think that regular hairballs are normal, they aren’t, any more than regularly vomiting food is normal. Think about it this way: Cats are designed to swallow a lot of fur. They swallow their own fur all the time, and they will swallow the fur of their prey. Why would they be unable to pass that fur most of the time?

Can regular vomiting in cats be a dietary problem?

The problem for your puker cat may actually be her diet. Lower-quality foods often contain protein rendered from animal parts that are indigestible for humans, and difficult to digest for cats. This can cause regular vomiting in cats.

If your vet has determined this may be the case for your cat, try putting her on a higher quality food, with muscle meat as the main protein source. When you look at the ingredients list in cat food, you should see something like “chicken,” “poultry,” “beef,” etc., as the first ingredient. It should not contain “byproduct.” Find one of these foods, and see if that helps.

Another dietary problem that can cause regular vomiting in cats is food allergies. Rashes, sores and swelling are more common with food allergies, but they can cause vomiting, too. We believe this is what was happening with Aria, and that the grains in regular commercial cat food were the culprit. The reason is not just because she stopped vomiting regularly, but also that she used to suffer from occasional lip swelling, and it was a problem regardless of what bowls we used, what litter we used, basically anything.

We have our cats on a homemade, raw food diet, but this isn’t the only way to stop regular vomiting in cats. It’s just how we did it; Aria now vomits maybe once every six weeks, or less. It’s still a lot more frequently than it should be, but that’s a vast improvement. Her lips also no longer swell up.

It is extremely important that you and your vet rule out medical causes of your cat’s vomiting before you start trying dietary changes to help her. Regular vomiting in cats isn’t normal, but isn’t necessarily dietary, either. It’s also a good idea to work with your vet on dietary changes, once medical problems are ruled out.

Accidental Training Scenario

When we hide Chase’s food, we don’t just put it on shelves and chairs, and in out-of-the-way spots on the floor. We’ll also put it inside boxes, tubs, and even old laundry baskets when they’re out. The first time we did this with an old laundry basket, Chase couldn’t figure out how to get to his food. The poor guy kept pawing and pawing, and sniffing and sniffing, and he couldn’t figure it out!

Chase: Young Kitten to Happy, Rebellious Cat

This is Chase. He and Kali came to us by way of my sister, whose neighbor had found them alone and cold at probably 2 weeks of age. Nobody has any idea what happened to their mother, but we think she might have been hit by a car and killed. They were the smallest little kittens we’d ever seen, too young to eat solid food, and still needing kitten milk for nourishment.

They had fleas, and they wouldn’t calm unless they were closed in somewhere, so we kept them in a carrier with a folded-up king-size flannel sheet, a sweatshirt, and a small heating pad beneath all of that, set on low.

 

Here is Chase in 2009. At this point, he’s about 3.5 to 4 weeks old.

 

Still 2009, and right about when his eyes started changing color. For awhile, he seriously looked like he had purple eyes.

 

He liked feet back then. He still likes feet, especially when they’re dirty.

 

This is still 2009, and he’s about 10 weeks old in this picture.

 

He loves dirty shoes, too.

 

Another photo of a 10-week old Chase.

 

TOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much catnip, too much partying.

 

This is 2010. At this point, Chase is about six months old. He’s starting to fill out, and his fur has gone from short to long. He doesn’t quite have a ruff at this age, but it was around now that we started noticing that he’s got Maine Coon in him.

 

Chase likes to sleep with his tongue out for some reason. We have several pictures of him sleeping like this.

 

Now it’s 2011, and we’d just put some new vertical space in. You can’t see it in this picture, but his favorite toy is above him, on a newly installed shelf. He doesn’t know yet where it went.

 

This picture was taken at Christmas in 2012, and we sadly had to hightail it out to my father’s house after my stepmother was in a fatal car crash. The crash happened over Thanksgiving weekend, our usual pet-sitters were out of town, I was having trouble finding a flight, so we packed up the car, including all four cats, and drove the whole way. The cats and I were there for about six weeks, and they wasted no time in making themselves at home.

 

2014 now, and of course Chase has long since become fully grown. He’s always been a very alert cat.

 

See the Maine Coon in him?

 

A happy Chase. He thinks I’m his mother.

 

The video below is just an example of how Chase is like a child, particularly caught doing something he knows he’s not supposed to be doing. We’re slowly trying to train him to stay off the table, but we have a long way to go.

Feline Calicivirus: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Cats can suffer from respiratory infections just like we can. Many times, a respiratory infection in a cat is caused by feline calicivirus, which is potentially serious if left untreated. In addition to your cat’s chest, calicivirus can attack his mouth, his intestines and his musculoskeletal system. It’s important to be aware of signs that your cat is not feeling well, and take him to the vet.

Symptoms of feline calicivirus

What are some of the symptoms of feline calicivirus? According to PetMD, common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eye discharge
  • Nasal discharge
  • Tongue ulcers, and ulcers on the lips, hard palate, tip of the nose, and even claws
  • Arthritis
  • Lameness
  • Bleeding
  • Pneumonia, and difficulty breathing

How is feline calicivirus transmitted?

Feline calicivirus is spread through cat-to-cat contact, oftentimes in a shelter or a boarding facility. If your cat is an indoor-outdoor, or outdoor-only, cat, and has this infection, it’s possible that he came into contact with an infected cat on the street.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, there are over 40 strains of feline calicivirus worldwide, and they affect both domestic cats and exotic cats. That means that the wildcat sanctuaries around the country, and big cats in the wild, are vulnerable, too.

Feline calicivirus presents differently in different cats. This generally depends on which strain your cat has. Symptoms can take anywhere from two to six days after infection to appear, and then cats are contagious during the entire course of the virus, which might last anywhere from 14-21 days.

Vets can diagnose feline calicivirus based on the cat’s symptoms, especially if he has ulcers. Oftentimes, treatment is for symptoms only, at home, and the cat requires no hospitalization, as long as the virus remains uncomplicated. If there are complications, your vet will recommend further treatment.

If you notice your cat’s behavior is out of the ordinary, or he’s showing any of the symptoms above, call your vet and make an appointment. Don’t try to diagnose it yourself, or through the web. Your vet is your cat’s best bet for a full recovery.

Cats’ Meows: Is it Possible to Know What they Mean?

When it comes to cats, we might think their meows are their primary method of communication, and we’d be right, but cats only really meow at humans. They almost never meow at each other; they use an entirely different type of communication made up of body language and warning sounds, like growls and hisses. When they meow to us, they’re telling us things. Is there a way to figure out what the different meows mean?

Meows are unique to each cat

According to Dr. Gary Weitzman, the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, while it’s true that cats may have anywhere from a dozen to two dozen distinct meows, every cat has its own unique set of meows. Salon reports that he co-wrote a book called “How to Speak Cat,” because, well, we should know how to talk to our cats.

Dr. Weitzman told Salon that you can’t translate a single meow as being, or meaning something, universal, to all cats. However, your cat will have distinct meows for everything from, “Feed me,” to “Let me out,” to “I don’t like this!” And more. Another cat will have meows that sound a little different, that means those same things.

My cats, and their distinctive meows

I’ve noticed some differences with all four of my cats. Their hungry meows, for example, all sound slightly different from one another. Gizmo‘s voice has a very quiet, plaintive sound, while Kali and Chase both have higher pitched meows.

Incredibly enough, Aria doesn’t usually meow when she’s hungry. She does meow when she wants attention. We think she’s losing her voice a little, because she’s getting up there in age, so her “Pet me!” meow has gone from having a musical lilt to being more of a chirp than a meow. She also sometimes has a trill with it.

As you’ll hear in the video below, Kali likes to combine her hungry meow with trills, while Chase often sounds like he has a “double meow.” Chase is the loudest and most vocal cat at feeding time (and really, all the time), and all those loud, demanding meows you hear are coming from Chase, who is the cat that keeps standing up on his hind feet and pawing at the cabinets.

Put your cat’s meows into context to learn what she’s saying

One way you can learn what your cat’s meows mean is to put context with them. What are you doing, and what is she doing? Is she acting like she wants something? Are you fixing food? Is she in her carrier, in the car, or in another situation where she might be distressed? Is she at the door, or at a closet door? Is she pawing at something? What is her body language saying? All of this can help you learn what your cat’s meows mean.

Dr. Weitzman says that cats’ meows are also a way of bonding, and when you meow back, like a crazy cat person, you might actually be intensifying that bonding experience. It might feel like real dialogue, and he believes that in a way, it is. It’s not futile because it’s communication.

Pay close attention to your cat’s meows, and see how many you can identify. So far, I’ve discovered a minimum of five distinct meows for each one of my cats. How many can you hear, and can you figure out what your cat is telling you? Above all, have fun with it!

Clicker Training: Not Just for Dogs Anymore

Enrichment is an important part of a cat’s life, particularly if that cat is an indoor-only cat. Some cats need more enrichment than others, and for those cats, you might find that you need to be innovative; simple interactive playtime may not be enough. What do you do if you have a cat like that, especially if his unhappiness is leading to bad behavior (such as jumping on tables and counters you’d rather he stay off of)? One possibility is trying something known as clicker training.

Chase’s and my foray into clicker training

Clicker training is something I’ve sort of started with Chase. All four of our cats are indoor-only cats, but Chase sometimes seems especially unhappy about it. Every so often, I’ll put him on his little harness and take him for small walks outside, but I can’t do that all the time, especially in the dead of winter here. I make sure to give him some good interactive playtime each day, but that’s not always enough, either.

One day, I noticed he seemed to be bored with his food. I thought he might do better if I started dividing his meals up into more bowls, and then “hiding” the bowls around the house. It worked, but when I put his food too high, he couldn’t see or smell it, so he had a lot of trouble finding it. Instead of just putting him in front of his food or putting it in front of him, I would lead him to it, using my hand as a sort of cue.

This was the result: He learned that he can follow my hand to food. I noticed that one day when it was time for the cats’ dinner. That night, he ran to the bottom of the stairs and stopped, looked up at me, and mewed. I waved at the stairs as he carefully watched my hand, and said at the same time, “Well, go on,” and up he went. He did that same thing the next day, and the day after that.

That’s where the clicker training came in for him. I use a pen right now, instead of an actual clicker, but whenever he negotiates the shelves, or other obstacles, in the way I want, he gets clicks. When he successfully negotiates the entire “course,” he finds his food waiting for him at the end.

What is clicker training?

Clicker training, also known as “operant conditioning,” is a process by which you can shape your cat’s behavior. Cats can quickly learn to repeat an action when they discover that action has a desirable result (such as treats or food). Punishment is never used with clicker training; it’s entirely reward-based, which is the most effective method of training a cat.

A click is a unique sound your cat’s environment. He knows the sound of your voice, but the click is different. According to Catster, because of that, clicks become a clear form of communication that he can associate with the desired behavior.

How do you start clicker training?

Clicker training requires patience, because while some cats learn to associate the click, behavior, and reward almost immediately, others don’t. According to Karen Pryor, whose website is dedicated entirely to teaching pet owners clicker training, this goes two ways: You think you’re training your cat to do certain things, and your cat thinks he’s training you to click and give him treats. It’s a win-win.

To start clicker training, first get your cat familiar with the sound of the click. This is your first training session, so you want to get him to associate the click with a treat. You shouldn’t use his regular treats or food; you should use something he utterly loves, but doesn’t get very often, like cooked chicken, fish, things of that nature. Pick up a treat, and simultaneously click while you give your cat the treat. That’s how you teach the association.

Once you and your cat have that down, Pryor recommends teaching him something simple, like touching a stick-like object with his nose. Sit with your cat in a place where you frequently interact, like the couch, your kitchen floor, places like that. Give him a treat, and click. Then bring out the object. He’ll look at it and likely try to sniff it. When his nose touches the object, click. Then put it out of his sight and give him a treat. Sit quietly while he eats it, and when he’s finished, bring out the object again. When his nose touches it, give him another click and a treat.

Using the stick-object as your target

From here, you use the stick-object as his target, and that’s how you get him to follow you. You can teach him to follow it a couple of feet, across a room, up and down shelves, and even through hoops. Don’t try to teach him all of this at once, though. Remember, patience is key with clicker training. He might pick it up very quickly or it might take you several sessions to get him to even learn to touch his nose to his target.

What I’m doing with Chase isn’t actually clicker training along these lines. I took something he was already doing and started using a pen as a clicker to reaffirm certain behaviors, such as jumping up on a shelf. My index and middle fingers are his “target,” and I haven’t given him treats for each click he gets.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t thought about starting formal clicker training with him. I have, and I will, because he seems to enjoy this kind of learning. He also seems to be a happier cat since I’ve started this with him, and I can’t imagine that actual clicker training wouldn’t help him out. There are nothing but good things to come, if the clicker training is done right.

Rising Cost of Vet Care Risks Pets’ Health and Lives

The rising cost of vet care is putting pets in danger. Most cat parents know that taking our furry feline friends to the vet for regular checkups is necessary for their health, and we all know the necessity of taking them to the vet if they’re sick or injured. What do you do, though, if you can’t afford it? Oftentimes, pets go without when people can’t afford vet care, as do people who can’t afford health insurance.

How expensive is major vet care, like hospitalization?

The Washington Post published an article about Orangey, a ginger tom that had the misfortune of getting caught under Peter Fenton’s garage door. He knew that Orangey was injured so he rushed him to the nearest emergency vet. Orangey’s injuries were minor, thankfully, but the vet kept him for 48 hours. Orangey’s vet care ultimately cost $968.29.

In 2011, our cat Chase swallowed a piece of fabric that caused a blockage in his digestive tract. In his first round of vet care, he managed to pass it, but doing so caused a serious infection, and he had to go back to the vet to undergo emergency surgery and hospitalization. All told, we spent more than $2,000 for him. That might seem cheap for emergency surgery and several days of hospitalization, but it was a shock to us.

That was also several years ago. We don’t know how much the same treatment would cost today given the rising cost of vet care.

These growing costs mean low-income families can’t afford it

The cost of vet care can be much worse, too, depending on where you live along with other factors. According to the Humane Society, 23 million pets live with people who are at or below the federal poverty level. Those are people who can’t afford vet care. They can barely afford pet food.

Many non-profits have started up low-cost spay and neuter clinics (including the Humane Society), but these still aren’t available in many areas. They also don’t generally provide other types of vet care.

Worse, some private veterinarians have started fighting against that. Fenton’s piece in the Washington Post notes that those groups claim these non-profit, low-cost clinics threaten their profession.

Veterinarian incomes, crippling student debt, and other costs are a problem, too

Vet incomes are another problem, but vets need to pay for their crippling student debt, along with all the associated costs of running a clinic. The annual personal income for a veterinarian is $120,000 per year, according to Fenton, which is up from $60,000 way back in 1995. So their incomes have risen by 100 percent in 20 years, while inflation and other costs have not risen nearly that high.

However, student loans have risen by far more than inflation, too. With clients finding cheaper alternatives to medication online or in their regular pharmacies, as opposed to the vet’s office, that makes other charges for vet care go up.

This is not to say that veterinarians are totally, completely, 100 percent innocent. Some do milk their clients. Robert Foley, of The Angry Vet blog, talks about how some vets will run up bills with unnecessary tests and hospitalizations. He acknowledges that not every vet who charges high prices can justify it.

Are there alternatives to paying for vet care entirely out-of-pocket?

Foley also rails against pet parents who don’t do anything to lower their own vet care costs, such as buying pet insurance or applying for Care Credit. Care Credit sounds great. However, as Care Credit client, I personally can attest to the fact that their APRs are awfully high. Ours is 26.99 percent; we’ve got credit cards through our bank that are at 18 percent.

Not everybody can afford to go into debt like that for even one major vet expense. We are lucky here that we can afford the payments with the high APR. But we also have to acknowledge that not everybody can afford that.

Pet insurance isn’t all its cracked up to be, either. Some plans cover up to 90 percent of vet costs, but you still have to pay for your own vet care up front and then submit a claim. So you either need to have the money in your bank account already, or you need to have a credit card that will cover things while you wait for your claim to be processed.

However, insurance can be a viable method of helping you pay the cost of vet care. For more on the pros and cons of pet insurance, click here.

Lowering the cost of vet care on your own

There are ways of lowering your vet costs without doing either of those things. The first will probably seem obvious to you: Preventative care. It’s still expensive, but not nearly as expensive as illnesses and emergencies are.

You can also shop around for the best vets that may fit your budget and discuss your financial situation with your vet on your first visit. Some vets will work with you to help you afford vet care for your pet.

If you live near a college or university with a veterinary school, you can contact them to see if they’d be willing to see your pet. They’re always looking for animals on which to practice various types of care. You might find this method to be a good fit for you.

The cost of vet care boils down to one thing

The growing cost of vet care comes down to the fact that too much is too expensive for clients and for vets. It’s a much more complex problem than the veterinary profession just getting greedy and charging way too much. Nobody can dispute that we need to find ways to solve these problems, though, because Fenton is right: It does put pets in danger.

Chase ‘Gnaws’ my Knuckles 2

Another look at Chase “gnawing” my knuckles. You can see his behavior here considerably better than in the last video. Like I said before, this doesn’t hurt, and he only does it when he’s hungry. The rest of the time, he engages in wool-sucking behavior, meaning he suckles and kneads on blankets that are on me. Sometimes, when he’s doing this knuckle-gnawing thing, I feel him flexing, but not always.

Here he is: