Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Box Swap

Tips on acclimating a cat to a new litter box

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My mother fell recently and broke her shoulder. Naturally, it was her right arm that took the blow, so she’s having to do many things not only one-handed while she recuperates, but also with her non-dominant hand.

One of those things is scooping the litter box. A neighbor took care of Mom’s cat, Tracy, while she was hospitalized and undergoing physical therapy, but Mom came home last week and needed to start doing things for herself. My husband and I arrived to help the following day, and the first thing I suggested was that we purchase an automated litter box to eliminate or at least reduce the difficulty of that chore.

We chose one that was uncovered, since Tracy was already used to that type of box. It senses when the box has been used and has a rake that slowly moves across the litter to sweep waste into a receptacle. The tray with the receptacle is replaced every 20 to 30 days. For cats who prefer a modicum of privacy, a covered version is available. Top-entry automated boxes are available as well. They can be good choices for cats who tend to scatter litter.

To accustom Tracy to her new box, we placed it next to her original one -- which my husband had emptied and replaced with a new liner and litter -- and filled it with the non-clumping blue crystals that serve as litter. Tracy christened it immediately, but she’s still using her old box as well.

We are “seeding” the new box with small amounts of poop from the old one. The goal is for the odor to attract Tracy to the new box so she will begin using it. Cats are extremely scent-oriented -- as much as or even more so than dogs -- so this should help her adjust to the new toilet area. Other cat lovers suggest mixing a small amount of the former type of litter with the new litter until Tracy adjusts to the change.

Equally important, we don’t want to stress her by taking away the old box entirely. In fact, the rule of paw for litter boxes is that there should be one per cat, plus one more. That means Tracy now has the perfect number of litter boxes. She’s an “only cat,” so she doesn’t have to share either box with other felines. If there were additional cats in the home, I would place each box in a separate area to ensure that one cat didn’t try to ambush another.

Both boxes are located in an area away from human traffic and far from food and water. Nearby, Tracy also has a tall chair in front of a window so she can keep an eye on what’s going on outdoors. All of those things are important to cats when they are choosing a place to pee and poop.

One advantage of a self-cleaning litter box is that the cat learns that a clean box will always be available. Cats are fussy about bathroom cleanliness -- aren’t we all? -- and they like knowing exactly when the litter box will be clean. If your cat supervises while you scoop and then immediately uses the box, now you know why.

So far, Tracy seems satisfied with her new setup, even if she isn’t using the new box exclusively. And with helpers around the house, Mom hasn’t had to do any scooping yet, so that’s a plus for her. Even if she does have to scoop the box on her own after her kids leave, we’re hoping that time and effort spent on the chore will be halved. Bonus: Tracy loves hiding out in the empty box that held her new toilet.


When should pups

go to new homes?

Q: How old should puppies be when they go to their new homes? The breeder we’re talking to is offering to let us take our new puppy when she’s 6 weeks old. Will that ensure a better bonding experience?

A: Run fast and far away from that breeder! While the age at which it’s best for pups to go to their new homes varies by breed or type of dog, no puppy should leave mom and littermates before 8 weeks of age.

It might seem as if getting a very young puppy would improve your ability to bond with her, but research shows that young pups still have a lot to learn about proper dog behavior from interactions with their mother and littermates. They learn about behavioral expectations from an older dog -- mom -- and appropriate social skills -- don’t bite too hard! -- from littermates. They also learn other perceptual and motor skills.

Puppies taken home at 8 weeks or older have fewer behavior problems later in life, according to a study by Italian researchers published in the journal Veterinary Record. They looked at dogs who went to new homes between 5 and 6 weeks of age and between 8 and 9 weeks of age. Puppies who were older at the time they left the litter were less likely to be destructive, bark excessively, show fearfulness on walks, react fearfully to sounds, or be possessive of food, toys or other objects.

Responsible breeders send puppies to new homes when they are 8 to 12 weeks old. Puppies in that age range are more mature and more likely to sleep through the night. That makes them easier to housetrain.

Breeders of toy dogs, especially, prefer to keep pups until they are 12 to 16 weeks old to ensure that they are sturdy and confident enough for their new home. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Oklahoma program

helps horses in need

-- A horse rescue program in Edmond, Oklahoma, helps people place horses they can no longer care for. A partnership between Nexus Equine and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has so far taken in more than 50 horses and donkeys whose people no longer have the resources to keep them. The pilot program gives owners peace of mind, and helps ensure that the animals find new homes if their health permits. The goal is to develop a national plan based on information gathered from this and similar programs elsewhere.

-- It’s been known for years that greyhounds have difficulty breaking down certain drugs, which means they must be anesthetized with care. Scientists at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine who discovered the genetic mutation in greyhounds have now learned that the rare anomaly occurs in other breeds as well, including borzoi, Italian greyhounds, whippets, Scottish deerhounds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and even some mixed breeds. The findings were published earlier this month in Scientific Reports. The researchers are now working to create a simple cheek-swab test to detect the mutation and determine an individual dog’s sensitivity to certain anesthetic drugs before surgery. Owners of golden retrievers and greyhounds who are interested in having their dogs participate in a one-day study can email for more information.

-- Cat Eva went missing after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017, and her family never knew what happened to her. But thanks to a microchip and efforts of the Hillsborough County (Florida) sheriff’s department, the lost cat was reunited with her family last month. Appropriately enough, Eva sought shelter at the sheriff’s office district headquarters on Christmas Eve. Deputies took her to a veterinarian, who scanned her for a microchip, enabling sheriff’s deputy Katelyn Kotfila to contact the owners and arrange the reunion. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.