Monday, March 31, 2014

When it comes to litter boxes, size matters -- among other things

One thing that I've learned over the years with my cat Silver, is that the way to make a cat upset is to either move their litter box, or replace it with another that's unfamiliar to them. And, oh, will you pay if they've become unhappy with something you've done.

Litter boxes are touchy subjects to cats. Our feline friends have definite preferences with regard to taking care of business, from the type of litter box, the size, where it's placed and even the kind of litter that's used.

Inappropriate elimination is a common issue that I'm approached about often, and the root causes can be complex. Whittling down the list of what could be causing discontent can be troubling and painstaking on the part of the human -- especially if one has a multiple cat household -- but the findings of recent research supports what those in the know have been suggesting for years: pay attention to your cats preferences, but most of all, give them privacy and space.

43 households took part in the study, "Litterbox size preference in domestic cats", with some of those being multiple cat households – 74 cats in all. The purpose was to evaluate how cats would respond when given the choice of using one of two plastic litter boxes: a large one that exceeded the size of what is normally found in stores (86 cm in length), and a smaller but average-sized one. At the start, the 2 boxes were placed at opposite ends of the same room in the owner's home. After a 2-week period, the boxes were emptied completely, refilled with clean clumping litter (which the households were given an unlimited supply of), and replaced, this time in the opposite location.

After analyzing data that consisted of entries in a log book kept by the pet owners with how many fecal and urine deposits their respective cats made on a daily basis, the researchers found that urine deposits were more more frequent, and that the larger-than-average litter boxes were preferred. Authors of the study, Norma C. Guy, Marti Hopson and Raphael Vanderstichel noted that another preference, location, seemed to have weight as well.

For years, I've recommended the following formula in keeping felines happy: have at least one litter box per cat in the household (and two for one pet), know where they prefer to have their litter boxes placed — and yes, ensure that they are the right size and type. In the latter case not all litter boxes are created equal.

There are many litter pans on the market, but some are not appropriate depending on the sex or age of the animal.

For senior cats, consider a box with a lower entry point so that they can get in and out with more ease since arthritis can make mobility challenging.

As for the sex of the cat, I find that females do just fine with most types, but male cats for obvious reasons need boxes that are higher in the back so that urine doesn't get deposited outside of the box, even if it has a lid.

My top pick across the board is the Whisker City High Back litter pan — and one version comes with a hood to minimize litter scatter. The large size of this box (according PetSmart, where it's exclusively sold, it measures 18.7"L x 15.5"W x 15"H) can accommodate even the largest cats comfortably and with it's high back, your days of cleaning up urine from behind the box are over. The lid can be a bit unwieldily, but it lifts easily on a hinge for ease of daily cleaning, which I might add is an important detail that all cats appreciate and will help them maintain good litter box habits.

Click here to read the study, which was published in January.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ditching the slow feed bowl and incorporating more fun and healthy options can keep your dog from eating too fast

Let's face it: some dogs are more "enthusiastic" than others when it comes to mealtime.

Seldom do I ever hear that people have a difficult time getting their dogs to eat. In my line of work, I see that is a very good thing because it helps me gauge how a pet is doing in the absence of their humans. A good appetite means that they're feeling comfortable with what's happening.

For some dogs, nothing slows them down when it comes to eating their meals. Surely many of you can relate — you know, the dog that gobbles up their food like they've not eaten in days.

For this reason, mealtime can pose a real problem for some families, especially if it involves having multiple dogs in the house.

This was the case in my own household for years, and having tried different approaches to help mitigate the issues associated with my dog's habit of inhaling their food – with the risk of a life-threatening condition called bloat being one – I realized some things.

Not all approaches and products are created equal when it comes to addressing this vexing problem, and understanding why each dog engages in gulping down their meals is key.

The natural inclination for us humans is to seek a product to help when we (think) that we see an issue with behavior or health arise, and while there are some good ones out there, I feel that others simply complicate the problem. The latter is especially true if one isn't looking at the big picture.

Understanding the reasons why dogs eat too quickly can help mitigate the incidence of it happening, and avoiding what commonly results: gagging, choking and/or vomiting up everything they've eaten.

In looking at a pet's overall situation, it's helpful for pet owners to ask themselves:

  • Does my dog feel like there's competition over food? Are there other pets in the home?
  • How often does my pet get fed?
  • Is the nutritional value of the food sufficient for the animal?

A trip to the vet is the first rule of order to pinpoint any health issues, like the possibility of your pet being infected by parasites (parasites can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, increasing a dog's appetite).

If your pooch has clean bill of health, consider feeding your dog more frequent, smaller meals. Twice per day is ideal, but some dogs fare even better with three or four. Feeding a diet that's nutritionally adequate for the pet's needs can help bridge the gap that they physically feel if their diet is lacking.

If there's competition amongst the animal members of the family, consider feeding your gang on opposite sides of the room — or even in separate rooms if possible.

It seems important to note that some breeds are predisposed to acting like a canine vacuum cleaner; Labradors, beagles, pugs, basset hounds, dachshunds, among others.

With so many products on the market to help address the issue of pets wolfing down their food, I find that the ones like slow feed bowls only compound the problem. These bowls can range from having a spoke-like design to a dome in the middle to slow down the amount of food that goes down the hatch at a given time. However, in an even greater effort to ingest the food, I find that most dogs end up get more worked up about their meal than usual, even swallowing a lot more air. These issues are not only leading causes of bloat (something these products were meant to help avoid!), but they typically result in gassiness, as well.

To slow down your dog's pace a few notches, consider adding some canned food to their dry diet, or do something as simple as scatter your dog's kibble in the grass or on the floor so that they can graze. For added enjoyment and to (hopefully) provide some distraction from competition, feed your pet from a foraging toy, like a Kong.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Laser toys are a fun way to interact with cats, as long as they are used correctly

Play is a vital part of a cat's life, as it provides an outlet for mental stimulation, to burn off energy and to satisfy their hunting instincts.

Cats are easily amused. Quite often, they can be found using the most simple of things to play with, whether it be an inkpen, a crumpled wad of paper, a wine cork or an empty cardboard box.

There are plenty of toys on the market that are geared toward felines that can keep them happy, whether it be a teaser wand, a catnip toy, tiny furry toy mice, crinkle balls, (the list never ends), it's easy to mix things up a bit to provide variety.

Interacting with our cats is important, and ditto for ensuring that they get enough exercise each day. Play is a great way to achieve both things, and depending on your cat's play preferences, you can hone in on how you can both get the most out of that time together.

One popular toy — the laser light  — is a go-to for plenty of reasons: Cats love to chase that famous red dot endlessly, they get the stimulation that they need and yes, it can make it easy on us humans.

By and large, I think that laser toys are fine to use, though I have seen some cats get a little too stimulated and redirect their enthusiasm in a way that is unwanted. (Ditto for dogs – in fact I see that canines get too worked up and for that reason, I find laser toys inappropriate for them.)

There is a right way to use a laser toy with your cat, however, and by following a couple of simple rules, you can keep things fun, productive and keep your cat interested in this mode of play.

Simply moving the light across the floor enthusiastically to have your feline friend chase it and abruptly turn it off is terribly unsatisfying to them, and really, only offers part of the allure of the game.

It's good to remember that the light on these toys mimics prey — which is why cats like to chase them. When a feline is after prey, they have a reasonable expectation that at some point of them stalking, chasing and pouncing on the light, that they'll actually "catch" what they're after.

In order to facilitate this, choose an end point (like a bit of dry food or treats, or a toy like a furry mouse) and as you begin winding down a play session, hover over the end point and there, your cat will get the 'prize' that they've worked for. By doing that, you'll ensure that they'll want to participate in future play sessions with the laser, and that they'll get the physical and mental exercise that they need to be happy.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.