Trimming Cats’ Claws: How to Do it And Why you Should

Many of us might not think about trimming our cats’ claws. This is especially true for those whose cats are well trained not to scratch up the furniture or the drapes. However, trimming cats’ claws is an important part of keeping them well groomed and healthy. Here’s why.

Trimming cats’ claws: Protection for them and you

Admittedly, we don’t trim our cats’ claws nearly as much as we should. I’ve watched Chase play on the carpet, and sometimes, his back claws get stuck. Gizmo’s claws sometimes get stuck in blankets, and they click on the hard floors when she walks. All four of our cats have claws that get pretty sharp. With Chase and Gizmo, there’s the possibility that they could injure themselves when their claws haven’t been trimmed. This is one reason why trimming cats’ claws is so important.

Another reason why trimming cats’ claws is necessary has to do with protecting yourself. As Vetstreet points out, if you’ve got a cat that loves kneading on you, those claws are going to hurt. Kneading is one of the ways our cats show they love us and are comfortable with us, so dulling their claws by trimming them can help to make that experience much more of an enjoyable bonding experience for both of you.

Trimming cats’ claws is also a fantastic alternative to declawing. This is especially true if you’re training your cat to only scratch approved surfaces. Scratching is natural to cats, and they will do it, so it’s important that they know what they can and can’t scratch around your house. While you’re training them, though, they may still scratch your furniture, and nicely trimmed claws will help reduce the damage.

Some ways to help you trim your cats’ claws

Despite knowing why trimming cats’ claws is a good idea, it can still be a frightening prospect. A lot of cats don’t like us to play with their paws, let alone each one of their toes. Start slow, and with treats at hand. Gently touch each of your cat’s paws, and give her treats, to give her a positive association with your touch.

Don’t rush it. Make sure she’s comfortable with you handling her paws before you start clipping her claws. Because you only want to take the tip off, if you’ve got a struggling cat, you could cut too much off of her claws and hurt her, or you could end up doing worse. There has to be a certain level of trust and comfort before you try trimming cats’ claws.

If you can’t get all of her claws at once, don’t worry. Trim as many as she’ll allow, and then give her treats. Repeat the process later, until you’ve trimmed all of her claws. If this is just too much for you, and you don’t feel you can safely do this, then you can call your vet or a groomer and have them do it for you.

The bottom line is that trimming cats’ claws doesn’t just protect you and your house, it protects your cats, too. This is an important part of caring for your cat that you shouldn’t neglect.

Star Wars Cats Getting Jedi Training

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened on Dec. 18 to eager fans and rave reviews, along with pleas all over social media to not spoil the film for those of us who haven’t seen it yet. We’ve all also been dealing with all things Star Wars in commercials, as everyone has been capitalizing on the release of the long-awaited Episode VII. You probably wouldn’t have thought that cats would get much out of this, but apparently, there are cats getting Jedi training out there.

Wait, what? Cats getting Jedi training? Come on.

To be sure, the cats getting Jedi traning aren’t really, but they are getting “training” and playtime courtesy of Master Yoda, the great Jedi master himself, in this hilarious video. Yoda’s lightsaber is acting as a wand toy in this video, and the cats getting Jedi training are actually a bit bemused by it. Watch below:

What better way to celebrate Star Wars and give your cat some much needed playtime than something like this? If you think your cat would make a great Padawan, and later on, an amazing full-fledged Jedi knight, then perhaps Master Yoda is exactly who you need.

Introducing your cats to Master Yoda

Be sure to introduce your cat to Master Yoda slowly; cats, even Jedi cats, need time to get used to something new, and even more time if it’s going to move and make sounds, as Master Yoda does. The last thing you want to do if you’d like to see your cats getting Jedi training is to scare them. Don’t forget to tie something you’d find on a wand toy to his lighsaber so they have something to go after.

The toy itself is available at Amazon, and it’s battery-powered, so you can sit back and watch your cats getting Jedi training…at least until the batteries run out. Keep in mind that your cats still need your direct interaction, despite what Master Yoda can do, and this might not be the best toy to leave on while you’re not home. If you want to see your cats getting Jedi training, though, then make sure your cats get the absolute best Jedi training there is.

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Litter Box Training: What Litter is Safe for Kittens?

This is an updated version of an article from my column on Examiner.com.

When raising kittens, questions about litter box training often arise, particularly when the kittens are under twelve weeks of age. Any good cat parent wants to keep kittens safe. Thus the question of what litter is safe to use is a frequent, and very valid, concern when litter box training kittens.

I have some experience with litter box training very young kittens. Chase and Kali were only three weeks old when we adopted them. They obviously needed special care at that age. What we found is that the actual litter box training was easy. However, deciding what litters were safe for them was a little harder. Our vet said we should stay away from clumping litter until they were about twelve weeks old, to get them past the phase where they were likely to eat the litter.

Clumping clay litter is controversial

Whether or not clumping cat litter is safe is rather controversial, despite the widespread availability of such litters. There is a lot of information, both on and off the web, that supports and condemns clumping litter. The controversy comes from confusion about whether the litter gathers in the digestive tract, urinary tract, and respiratory system, and causes blockages. In her article titled “Cat Litter – To Scoop or Not to Scoop,” Franny Syufy writes:

Many readers are aware that clumping clay litters have come into disfavor in recent years. While, to my knowledge, there have never been any scientific studies proving the hazard to cats of clumping clay litters, there has been a flood of anecdotal testimony that clumping clay litters may be hazardous. Indeed, I personally have considered it important to warn cat lovers about the potential danger of using clumping clay litters containing sodium bentonite.

She goes on to say that the entire controversy apparently started with Marina McInnis (Michaels), a breeder who lost a couple of litters of kittens to what she believes were problems caused by clumping litter.  Most others who denounce clumping litter refer back to McInnis’ writings.

When litter box training kittens, what should you use?

When you’re litter box training kittens, especially very young kittens, you should avoid clumping litters, because kittens will eat everything they can. While tiny amounts of clumping litter are safe for adult cats to ingest (such as when he grooms himself and swallows some granules stuck to his fur), kittens have tiny digestive systems that are more sensitive. Simply eating clumping litter could be dangerous for them.

The best and safest litters to use when litter box training kittens, then, are either the regular, non-clumping clay litters, or more natural litters such as pine, corn, or wheat. Natural litters don’t have many of the chemicals that commercial litters do, even though the commercial litters are mostly clay. Natural litters are even safe for kittens and cats that have recently been through surgery. These litters are highly absorbent and their natural odor tends to cover up, or even absorb, the odor of kittens’ wastes.

Leash Training your Cat: How to do it, and Why you Should

Everybody walks their dogs on leashes, but not many people think about leash training their cat. Lots of cats actually enjoy going outside, and if you have an indoor-only cat that stares longingly out the window, there’s no reason not to take her outside as long as she remains under your control. Here’s why you should consider leash training your cat, and how to do it.

Why leash training your cat is a good idea

Besides letting your cat enjoy the outdoors safely, leash training your cat can help to strengthen the bond between you, according to The Huffington Post, because it gives you a new experience together. It can also be part of your cat’s enrichment, particularly if she’s indoor-only. You can only give her so many new experiences inside, but outside is always new. There are different smells and sounds at different times of year, and different animals and bugs, too.

There are even differences between morning, afternoon and night. You can take her for walks at different times of day, and let her experience everything. Leash training your cat so you can take her outside can help alleviate indoor boredom, and the stress that comes with that boredom.

Steps for leash training your cat

It’s important to remember that not all cats will take to a leash with a harness. If your cat just can’t handle it, don’t push her. You don’t want to upset her. But how do you know if your cat will like a leash and harness? Step one is to buy a harness; don’t attach the leash to her collar. A harness pulls on her chest, not her throat, so there’s a lot less risk of injury to your cat if she tries to run off.

1. Start with the harness

Start leash training your cat by having treats nearby, and try to put the harness on her. Give her a treat, and just rest the harness on her neck. Get her used to you “fidgeting” around her neck and throat. The treats will help keep her calm, and associate something positive with the experience. Go slowly, and work with her until she lets you snap it around her neck.

Once she accepts this, then you can work with her on wearing the harness for a few minutes at a time. Always work in steps, and always have treats nearby. The more she loves the treat, the more positive the experience will be for her, so don’t use the same treats every time. Use cat treats, cold cuts, tuna; mix it up. It’ll be more effective. Do this until she’s comfortable with the harness.

2. Attach the leash

The next step with leash training your cat is to attach the leash to the harness. When you do this the first time, let her drag it around, but remain near her in case the leash gets caught on something. Do not leave her alone while she’s got the leash attached to the harness. Here, too, is a good time to use treats, because she might find the leash awkward and strange.

3. Teach her to respond to your subtle direction

When she seems accustomed to having the leash, you can start training her to walk on it. Keep your voice low and gentle; cats don’t respond to commands the way dogs do. Encourage her, and try to avoid showing frustration. This, too, is a good time to give her some treats, especially when she does what you want her to, like come to you when you tug. Remember, though, to tug very gently. You don’t want to hurt her or scare her.

4. Take her outside

Once your confident that she’ll respond to your direction, you can start taking her outside. The final step to leash training your cat, however, is actually to put her leash and harness on inside, and then carry her outside and set her down. This will help teach her that she’s only allowed outside when you carry her; she can’t go out on her own.

You may have to be more careful going in and out of your house without her, because if she really enjoys the outdoors, she might start trying to sneak out, even if you try to teach her that she can’t go out unless you’re carrying her.

It’s very important to remember that not all cats take to a leash and harness, and if this is the case with your cat, it’s okay. She might just really like looking out the window, and that’s fine. Don’t force her; you might damage the bond you have with her. Leash training your cat should be an enjoyable, bond-strengthening experience for the both of you. Enjoy, and good luck!

Cats Train Us: The Cold, Hard Truth

A common stereotype out there is that we humans don’t train cats, but rather, cats train us. In reality, it seems to go both ways; you work with your cat on improving desired behaviors, and stopping undesirable behaviors, with a reward system, while your cat likely thinks she’s training you to give her treats and attention whenever she does certain things. Is it true that cats train us, rather than us training them?

Kali: Evidence that cats train us, not the other way around

Kali is a picky eater. Some days, she’s a little piglet; eating all her food before I have a chance to sit down and get comfortable. Other days, she eats a little, then wanders away, then goes back and eats some more, then takes a bath, then eats some more. Maybe she finishes, and maybe she doesn’t. She does what she wants.

Oftentimes, when she walks away from her food after only eating half, I’ll just let her be for ten minutes or so. Then I go over to where she is, and start scratching her back, her ears, and her chin, and lightly rubbing her neck. She gets happy, and starts head-butting and purring, and I step up the attention. After a few minutes, she chirps, trills, gets down and goes back to her food.

So, what just happened here? Did I figure out that petting her, and making her happy, makes her want to eat, or did she figure out that if she stays away from her food long enough, I’ll come to her and give her attention? Is she evidence that cats train us?

Chase has us trained pretty well, too

We’ve got a similar thing going on with Chase. While we’re fixing the cats’ breakfast and dinner, he’s rubbing on our legs, standing up with his paws on the drawer handle, and mewing plaintively, or screaming in his desperate voice. Obviously, this behavior stops as soon as he gets his bowl of food. If cats train us, then he knows that all that screaming and pawing and rubbing gets him his food. That’s why he does it.

Of course, we’d feed him regardless of whether he did all this, or just sat quietly and waited, the way that Gizmo and Aria do. They all need to be fed, so we feed them.

The honest truth is that we’ll actually never know if we’re training our cats, or if cats train us. It looks to me like Kali and Chase have me pretty well trained, but I’m sure they let me think I’ve gotten some training done with them, too.

Why Cats and Dogs don’t Like Each Other

Dogs don’t like cats, right? Or is it that cats don’t like dogs? It’s not that they can’t get along, it’s just that, it’s more common for them not to get along. An article in The Guardian takes a look at this, and provides an answer to the age-old question of why cats and dogs don’t like each other.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Peterson

The history behind why cats and dogs don’t like each other

Historically, dogs and cats weren’t cared for very well. They were allowed to roam the streets, they primarily lived outside and/or in barns, and had to look after themselves for the most part. We didn’t really start actively caring for our pets as pets until sometime in the 20th century. When it came to fighting over scraps of food, dogs could communicate to one another whether they were going to fight, or if one was going to back down. They’ve inherited that ability from their wolf ancestors.

Cats, on the other hand, are more solitary, and while they do have hierarchies in colonies, they don’t have the complex communication system that dogs do. They’re far more circumspect about their intentions. Cats and dogs can’t communicate very well with each other, so, way back, they were more likely to actually get into real fights over food and territory. This is probably the biggest reason why cats and dogs don’t like each other.

What I’ve witnessed between cats and dogs, myself

I’ve never actually seen cats and dogs fight, but I have seen the evidence that cats and dogs don’t like each other. That was an issue of behavior and territory; my sister’s cat, Maggie, is an alpha and put her dog, LB, in his place by repeatedly swiping at his nose. He was afraid of her and he was afraid of cats in general. However, I never saw them actually fight. I just saw Maggie standing her ground and LB backing down.

I also saw LB back down in the face of a terrifying puffball of a kitten named Kali. The one time that LB was at our house, after Chase and Kali came to live with us, she stuck to LB like white on rice. If he so much as twitched, she’d hiss at him. She kept her little back arched as much as possible, and her fluffy tail as puffed up as possible, and hissed nonstop at him. Poor LB kept trying to back down from this kitten that didn’t understand backing down. Occasionally though, he’d look at her like he was saying, “Yeeeeeeah…keep practicing, kid.”

Generally, though, a bigger dog will chase a smaller cat. According to Animal Behavior Associates, cats usually run, which excites dogs, and entices the dogs to chase them. Only occasionally will a cat actually turn and fight. The relationship that existed between LB and Maggie (and by extension, all other cats) isn’t all that common.

If cats and dogs don’t like each other, how do you get them to?

Since generally, cats and dogs don’t like each other, does that mean they’re natural enemies? The Guardian’s piece says that they probably were at one time, but they’ve lived together for too long to be natural enemies any longer. The evolution of their relationship is rather dark and nuanced, and is where the phrase, “Fighting like cats and dogs” comes from.

You can train your dogs and cats to get along with each other and like each other. With all the photos and videos out there of cats and dogs together, it can be hard to believe that cats and dogs don’t like each other. Training your cats and dogs to like each other takes love, patience and time, but it can be done.

How to Train Cats to Wear Collars

A friend recently asked me if I know how to train cats to wear collars, because she’s having problems getting her cat to leave her collar alone. I gave her the usual advice, such as making sure the collar was tight enough that her cat couldn’t pull out of it, but loose enough that she could still get a finger underneath it, and other such advice. Her question piqued my interest, though, because our cats don’t wear collars (yet), so I don’t have a lot of experience in how to train cats to wear collars.

We actually need to train our cats to wear collars, because we have two that like to try and get outside. Chase has actually succeeded in bolting out the back door. Fortunately, he was overwhelmed by the wonder of actually being outside, and stopped in the middle of the yard to look around and sniff the air. I was able to get him to come to me, and I carried him back inside.

He hasn’t tried it again since, probably because we’ve been extremely careful about making sure he can’t get past us when we open the door. There’s always the possibility that he’ll manage to do it again, though. He could then head for the driveway and the street, or worse, the hole in the back fence. All of our cats are microchipped, but they don’t wear collars at all. If Chase did manage to get away, without a collar and ID tag, someone might see him and decide to take him in, without ever finding out if he belongs to someone else.

All cats should wear collars, even if they’re indoor-only

It might seem a little silly to put collars on cats, especially if they’re indoor-only cats. However, a combination of ID tags and microchips are your cat’s best bet for getting home safely and quickly if he ever gets out. Thus, it’s always a good idea to train cats to wear collars, even if they’re indoor-only cats.

You’ll want to buy a breakaway collar, because even if it fits perfectly, and your cat has learned to forget about it, he can still get it caught on things inside. The last thing you want is for something terrible to happen to him while you’re at work, or asleep, because his collar was caught and he couldn’t get out of it.

The best way to train cats to wear collars

The first thing to do is put the collar on your cat only when you can supervise him. This way, you can monitor him for excessive scratching or pulling, and remove the collar quickly if something happens. You can take the collar off when you go to bed, or to work, as he gets used to it.

World of Animal Welfare (WOAW) advises choosing a time when your cat is calm, and preferably happy, to introduce him to his collar. You’re putting something around his neck, which is his most vulnerable spot, so he’s not likely to be happy about it. Trying to train cats to wear collars when they’re already stressed is an exercise in futility – you’ll never be able to do it.

The American Humane Association says that one of the best ways to train cats to wear collars involves positive reinforcement and distraction. Put the collar on him, and then give him one of his favorite treats. You can also distract him with a little playtime, or perhaps even mealtime. This helps to teach him that he can still do everything he enjoys, even though he’s got a foreign object around his neck.

WOAW also says that, for the first few weeks, your cat might become quite skilled at slipping the collar off. Whenever that happens, simply put the collar back on, and reward him with more treats, scritches, and playtime. Keep trying to distract him from the feeling of the collar. Fun distraction may prove to be your best resource when you’re trying to train cats to wear collars.

Finally, patience is always the key. It can take awhile to train cats to wear collars without pulling them off. Never yell at him, or punish him, for finding a way out of his collar, because he either won’t know what you’re punishing him for, or it’ll give him a bad association with the collar and you’ll never be able to train him to wear one.

One Great Way to Enrich your Cat’s Environment

When it comes to enriching your cat’s environment, you might have to get creative. One thing you absolutely ought to do is create as much vertical territory as possible, using cat trees, shelves, or anything else you can think of, because climbing is instinctive behavior for cats. Toys, hidey holes, and safe, warm beds are also great enrichment. But sometimes, you have all of this, and it’s still not enough. How else can you enrich your cat’s environment?

A new game that might enrich your cat’s environment

We started a new game with Chase awhile back (it’s actually how we accidentally got into clicker training with him), because we noticed that he wasn’t eating his full meals anymore. He’d eat probably half, and then turn his nose up at the rest. The alarm bells in my head said he was sick, except he was still begging for my lunch and dinner, and he was still all excited about treats. He is great at hiding when he doesn’t feel well, but one telltale sign that he’s sick is that he doesn’t want his treats. So he wasn’t sick.

I thought it was likely that he was just bored in some way. He does want to be an indoor-outdoor cat, but we have no way of ensuring that he’ll stay in our backyard, so we can’t let him out, except on a harness and leash. It’s just too dangerous. We had to address his boredom, though. We had to stimulate his mind and his instincts.

One fantastic way to enrich your cat’s environment is to make him “hunt” for his food. This is what we started doing with Chase. We divide his meals into three bowls, and he gets one bowl in the kitchen, and the other two get placed elsewhere in the house. He has to use his eyes and his nose to find them.

Catering to the hunting instinct is a fantastic way to enrich your cat’s environment

Dr. Jennifer Coates, at PetMD, agrees that this is a great way to enrich your cat’s environment. The way she puts it, we’ve taken a species that spent countless hours outside, hunting and scavenging enough food just to survive, and put it indoors with near-continuous access to food, and limited opportunities to really move. This results in boredom, bad behavior, and obesity.

Feeding multiple small meals per day, instead of free feeding, or feeding one larger meal, helps bring your cat closer to what he would have in the wild. While you can’t realistically feed your cat eight to ten small meals per day, you can feed three or four.

Dr. Coates also recommends using puzzle feeders, or you can take his meals and hide them, the way we do with Chase. You can also teach him to fetch certain objects by hiding them, and rewarding him with treats when he finds them and brings them back. Anything that stimulates hunting instincts will help to enrich your cat’s environment.

How to train your cat to “hunt” for his food

If you want to enrich your cat’s environment by hiding his food, start small. We started small with Chase, by giving him his usual bowl in his usual place, and then putting the other two bowls just a short distance away, where he could still see and smell them. From there, we put them out of his immediate sight, but still where he could easily find them. Once he had the hang of that, we started putting them up on chairs, on his shelves, and in other harder to find places.

It seems to have worked. He’ll still come and cry that he can’t find his food, which is where the clicker training has come in. He also “lies,” where he’ll find all his food, eat all of it, and then come cry like he can’t find his food. But for the most part, he seems happier eating his meals this way than he did when he was eating all of it at one time, in one place.