Giving Shelter Cats Boxes Reduces Stress

Shelters are loud, smelly, unfamiliar places, full of unfamiliar people, and cats that live in shelters suffer from high levels of stress. Scientists recently found that one of the reasons cats like boxes is because boxes make them feel safe. Now, some scientists believe that giving shelter cats boxes will reduce their stress, particularly if they’re new arrivals.

Giving shelter cats boxes helps them better adapt to the shelter environment

According to Phys.org, the authors of a study that was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science specifically looked at new arrivals in a shelter in the Netherlands. They chose shelter cats because cats’ stress levels are quite high. What they found is that boxes did, indeed, help to reduce stress in shelter cats in the short term.

In the study, ten cats had boxes, and nine did not. At the end of their third day of observation, the cats with boxes had adapted to their new environment far better than the cats that didn’t have boxes.

Why is this? According to Wired, which put together the results of a whole bunch of studies on why cats like boxes, hiding is a behavioral strategy. Wired quotes one of the authors of the study mentioned above, who went on to say that hiding helps cats cope with stressors in their environment.

Giving shelter cats boxes gives them hiding places, too

Cats like boxes enough to find ways to get underneath them when they’re upside down.

Cats also have issues with conflict resolution, as Wired notes. So when they have the opportunity to engage in conflict or run away, they’re more likely to run away. If they can hide, then so much the better. Cats like to bluster, and they prefer to make their enemy back down without ever “firing a shot,” as it were. When that doesn’t work, they’ll try and run. In the wild, they often don’t fight unless they absolutely have to.

The implications for shelters are outstanding. Good shelters want to make their environments as stress-free as possible. For some cats, especially the more fearful, perhaps providing a box for the cat to hide in can help them adjust better, and behave better, thus raising their chances of early adoption.

Obviously, simply providing a box isn’t the whole solution. The whole solution is far more complex. But it’s a simple, low-cost way for shelters to temporarily address high stress levels in their cats.

Feeding Cats Fish – Is It A Good Idea?

We frequently see cartoons showing cats eating fish. Indeed, cats do seem to love fish. We feed our cats a little bit of fish with their raw food diets and they love it. Even so, is feeding cats fish a good idea for more than an occasional treat? According to Dr. Michael Fox, the answer is an emphatic NO!

What’s wrong with feeding cats fish?

Fish contains certain enzymes that destroy thiamine in cats. Thiamine is a necessary B vitamin for their metabolism. Without it, they begin exhibiting neurological issues, such as bending or curling their necks, head tilt, circling, and even seizures. They may also start vomiting more.

House cats are descended from desert-dwelling species of cats, most likely the African wildcat. That cat’s natural prey is rodents, rabbits, and maybe reptiles. Not fish. While fish is great as an occasional treat for cats, feeding them a diet primarily of fish can make them very sick.

Additionally, commercial cat foods made with fish tend to contain higher levels of magnesium and phosphorus than is safe for your cat. These things can be issues for cats with a history of urinary problems. Phosphorus is a major problem for cats with kidney disease. Cats eating primarily commercial cat food made of fish can be at a higher risk for UTIs and crystals. Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, has a list of reasons why fish-based cat foods are bad for your cat. To read the article in full, click here.

Feeding cats fish also exposes them to heavy metals

Beyond all that, fish can be contaminated with unsafe levels of heavy metals. This is a problem even in human food, so it’s likely even more of an issue for cats. This food also contains a preservative known as ethoxyquin, which is banned from human consumption. Why feed your cat something that’s so unsafe for you it’s been banned?

So in general, it’s best to avoid feeding cats fish products altogether. Whether it’s commercial cat food or raw fish, feeding it as more than a very occasional treat can be harmful for your cat. It’s best to stick with foods that are closer to their natural prey, such as poultry.

Scrunchie Collars May Reduce Cats’ Effects On Bird Populations

A recent study in Australia shows that cats wearing brightly colored scrunchie collars are less able to catch and kill birds. Specifically, red and rainbow collars seem to be the most effective for this.

How can scrunchie collars protect birds from free-ranging cats?

It’s because birds are attuned to bright colors. Bright colors are at odds with a cat’s coloring and markings, which are designed to camouflage them in their environments. The scrunchie collars defeat that purpose and act as a warning system for birds.

Smithsonian Magazine reports a 54 percent reduction “in the successful capture of birds, reptiles and amphibians,” when cats were wearing the collars. These don’t reduce their ability to hunt and kill rats and mice, though. This is because rats and mice aren’t nearly as attuned to bright colors as birds, reptiles and amphibians.

There are studies saying that free-ranging cats are responsible for billions of bird deaths each year

Many places have problems with free ranging cats. Various studies, done within the last few years, apparently show that free ranging cats are responsible for large numbers of bird deaths around the U.S. In fact, it’s far larger than previously thought. Those studies have sparked widespread criticism, and a hot debate about just how to manage free ranging cats.

NPR discussed one study, saying that it was a meta-study, meaning it was basically a study of other studies. The authors of this study said that they didn’t have any empirical data on the number of un-owned cats (stray or feral) in the U.S. NPR believes that alone casts doubt on the study’s findings, and they cited numerous other problems as well.

Alley Cat Allies blasted another study, saying that the researchers’ sample size (just 69 birds) was way too small to be accurate. The study also only looked at a very small a radius (roughly three miles), and can’t be very accurate that way either. That study also concluded that free-ranging cats might kill several billion birds annually.

Richard Conniff, an op-ed contributor for The New York Times, wrote a column called, “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat.” In it, he discussed all the ills that society wreaks on the environment, and on wildlife habitats. Despite that, he still seemed to place the bulk of the blame for declining wildlife populations on cats, despite the fact that our large populations of free ranging cats are our fault, not theirs.

Scrunchie collars still allow cats to feed and groom

According to Birdsbesafe, one manufacturer of these scrunchie collars, the bright material surrounds a standard breakaway collar, so if the cat gets stuck, the inner ring will break apart allowing both the collar and the fabric tube to fall free. That reduces the risk of strangulation. They also say that cats can feed and groom with it on, so owners can leave it on all the time.

It’s not practical to expect feral cats to accept brightly colored scrunchie collars, or any collar at all. Feral cat caretakers often have enough trouble just trapping them for neutering and shots, and these cats don’t tolerate handling. However, owned cats can wear these collars just fine. Perhaps they’ll become popular enough to help reduce friction between cat owners with indoor-outdoor cats, and bird lovers.

Food Puzzles And Foraging Can Do Wonders For Your Cat

Awhile back I wrote about how we addressed Chase’s boredom with being an indoor cat. We divide his meals up into two or three portions, give one directly to him, and hide the other(s). He seems to love “hunting” for his food. We’ve never tried food puzzles with him, but those are also a great way to stimulate your cat’s instincts and enrich his life.

Food puzzles will make your cat exercise his mind and his body

Cats instinctively want to forage, and free-feeding them from a single bowl doesn’t serve that need. Cats are happiest when they’re able to engage in their natural, instinctive behaviors, and that includes with mealtime. One thing you can do, even if you free-feed, is what we do with Chase – place small bowls of food around the house for him to hunt.

Many people who free-feed might feel sketchy about that because of the fear of attracting bugs and vermin, though. That’s where food puzzles can come in. One cat behaviorist, Mikel Delgado, says:

“[Food puzzles] provide cats with exercise and mental stimulation. It gives them an outlet for foraging for their food… As hunters, cats would be working for their food all day if they were not provided with a bowl.”

The lack of an outlet for instinctive behavior can lead to behavioral problems, including not using the litter box, overgrooming, and excessive attention-seeking. What food puzzles do is stimulate your cat’s mind and his instincts, while keeping all his food in one container.

Here are a couple of ideas for DIY food puzzles

You don’t even have to buy expensive contraptions. Purina ONE has some ideas for DIY food puzzles that are great. With just a plastic tub like the ones that hold cream cheese or sour cream (avoid PVC, though), an extra lid that’s bigger than the tub’s proper lid, a utility knife, and non-toxic glue, you can make a food puzzle that your cat has to push around in order to get his food.

You can use a bottle, or even a holiday egg, for this kind of puzzle. Click here to see exactly how to make these puzzle feeders. There’s still a chance that you’ll get some food around your house, but it will be much less than leaving bowls around.

In case your cat seems uninterested in those kinds of feeders, you can try a reach box feeder. Instructions for making that are on Purina ONE’s site at the link above as well. If neither of these feeders really works (and that is a very real possibility, cats are cats after all!), don’t give up! See what happens if you hide a few treats around the house, or very small bowls of food. Or come up with your own puzzle feeder and try that.

In our house, Chase has done so well “hunting” for his food that we started hiding bowls for Kali and Aria, too. Kali, especially, enjoys the “hunt” each night, and she seems like a happier cat, too. Whether you give your cat foraging opportunities, puzzle feeders or both, your cat will likely be much happier for it.

Cat Furniture For Compact Living Spaces

Many of us look for a lot of different ways to help our feline friends stay entertained while we’re away from the house for hours on end, or we have special beds for them so they have their own places. Oftentimes, this takes the form of cat furniture cat trees, condos, etc., so they have things to climb on, hide in, and sleep in on their own.

City living is not conducive to cat furniture

But city living can be a problem for cat furniture. I live outside of Chicago in a single-family house. Granted, it’s small, but it’s not nearly as small as some of the places closer into the city and within the city itself. We have room for scratching posts and cat trees here.

However, if you live in an apartment, flat, or condo, it’s likely that you just don’t have the room for a lot of cat furniture and toys around your place. City living often means that space is at a premium. So, if you live in a small space, what do you do to make it as interesting as possible for your cat?

If you’re looking for something other than a standard cat bed to put in your home, consider trying a Cat Crib Hammock. You can attach this to a chair’s legs and provide a comfy bed for your cat where she can feel safe. I personally have never tried these, but I have considered getting one or two.

It also doesn’t have to be actual furniture

For climbing, instead of a bulky cat tree, consider installing shelves in various rooms. We built our own out of 2×6 boards, stair rail brackets, and scrap carpeting from Home Depot.

The best way to do this is to start with a shelf low enough onto which your cat can jump at an angle no steeper than 30 degrees. That’s so your cat feels like she’s climbing, but is still comfortable enough to run.

Where you take it from there is up to you and your cat. As long as you anchor the stair rail brackets into studs, the shelves are more than sturdy enough for your cats. The stair rail brackets also take up much less room on the wall than standard shelf brackets.

These shelves may also help keep her from climbing on your furniture and knocking things off. Because they’re specifically for her, you may be able to train her to stay off your furniture more easily because she’ll have her own sets of shelves that cater to her climbing instinct.

Our cats love their shelves. We have three cats and enough space on the shelves for them to climb up high and get away from each other. They like to survey their domains, sleep, and even eat their meals on these shelves. I highly recommend them if you can put holes in your walls.

Some of it can even pull double duty

If you like plants but don’t like it that your cat knocks the pots over repeatedly, or you have to choose between planters and cat furniture, a planter from Pets Best Products might help. This particular planter is modern and stylish, and has a space inside for a cat bed. You can have your larger planters and your cat beds without sacrificing too much space this way.

I personally would love some of those planters, but I seem to have a brown thumb.

Long story short, there are tons of options for people living in small spaces with their kitties. A small space doesn’t mean you can’t have much cat furniture – it just means you have to get creative with it.

Encouraging Healthy Cat Scratching Behavior

Most of us have some idea of the frustration of dealing with our cats scratching up our furniture. While some respond to this by having their cats declawed, this is a bad solution. Amputating the first bone of each toe can result in lifelong problems for the cat. It’s important to understand that scratching is a normal, instinctive behavior. You should be encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior by giving your cat acceptable outlets for her need to scratch.

Encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior means not keeping your cat from scratching

The first thing in encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior is to avoid trying to train your cat not to scratch at all. Cats are happiest when they’re able to engage in all the behaviors that are normal to cats, like running, jumping, climbing, chasing, scratching and rubbing. When you discourage instinctive behaviors, you can confuse and stress out your cat, because she doesn’t understand why she can’t do those things that are natural for her. She’ll also just do them when you aren’t around.

Cat Behavior Associates says that scratching is far more than cats simply sharpening claws. While cats do scratch to sharpen their claws, they also do it to stretch and work their shoulder and back muscles.

Scratching is also a way for cats to mark territory. In the wild, the claw marks serve as warnings to other cats that someone has already claimed that territory. Besides that, cats have scent glands in their pads, and they can distribute scent by scratching.

Scratching can also relieve pent-up emotion. Cats that have excess energy for a variety of reasons may use scratching to relieve some of their feelings. That makes scratching a healthy outlet for emotion, and possibly one of the best reasons for encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior.

How do you go about encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior without sacrificing your furniture, though?

The first thing you can do to keep your cat from scratching your furniture is by making the furniture an unwelcome place. Use sticky tape, or spray it with something that smells pleasant to you, but is too strong for your cat. Maybe use sticky tape to stick aluminum foil, that’s also got sticky tape on it, on the places she likes to scratch.

If you do these things, instead of yelling at her or scaring her, you make the environment tell her not to scratch your furniture. This is far healthier and more effective for her than discipline ever will be.

Encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior requires more than deterrents, though

But that’s not enough. Encouraging healthy cat scratching behavior also means providing scratching surfaces for your cat, so she still has an outlet for her behavior. J. Ann Helgren of Petplace recommends having one scratching post per cat, plus one more, so that all your cats have their own “territory” to scratch.

Scratching posts should not be made entirely of carpet, according to Petplace, because carpet can’t withstand a cat’s claws very well. Plus, cats have been known to eat pieces of shredded carpet. A better post will have carpet on the perch(es), and sisal rope on the posts. Sisal rope is cheap, making the posts cheaper, and it’s far more durable than carpet. Plus, Helgren says that cats are more attracted to sisal rope than to carpet.

You can also use posts made of stripped tree trunks (or make your own). Because these are natural and durable, your cat will probably find these to be nice scratching surfaces also.

Long story short, if you pick the right surfaces and have an appropriate number of surfaces for your cat, you can encourage healthy cat scratching behavior without sacrificing your furniture to the cause. Your cat will be happier for it, and so will you.

Cat Urine Controls Mice, According To Study

Cats and mice. Cat and mouse. Games of cat and mouse. Everybody knows about cats and mice; it’s a stereotype that comes from the fact that cats chase mice, because mice are among domestic cats’ primary prey. They’re good meals, and they’re everywhere, so it’s only natural. However, it seems somewhat counterintuitive that mice would continue to inhabit the same areas of cats, after millennia of being cats’ prey. Yet, there they are. Why? It turns out that cat urine controls mice by way of a chemical found in it.

A chemical in cat urine controls mice? REALLY?

Yes, really. Cats actually might engage in a type of mind control with mice. No, they’re not telepathic, or at least, science hasn’t found them to be telepathic. According to an article on the BBC, research has found that when young mice are exposed to this chemical, they’re less likely to avoid cat scents later in life.

The BBC also says that the chemical can cause pregnant female mice to spontaneously abort. In other words, mice have an actual, physiological response to this chemical. Generally, the chemical increases all the signs of stress in mice, making them more fearful when they smell it.

The way that cat urine controls mice is bizarre, though

It seems, though, that when baby mice are exposed to this chemical during their most formative days, they produce even more stress hormone, but are less likely to react to it. Researchers believe this is because mice need to stay around humans, even though cats also live near humans.

In other words, this is proof of what we’ve always known about cats. They’re able to control minds. Right now, we just think cat urine controls mice. However, we could say that they control our minds, too, through certain behaviors (and not necessarily through their pee). How far that control goes, though, is anybody’s guess.