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

Cat Fun

Build the house of your cat’s dreams -- or at least jazz up his life a little

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

We’re all spending a lot more time with our pets these days -- dogs are getting walks galore and more playtime than they know what to do with -- but what about cats? They don’t typically go on walks (though a few are exceptions to this rule), so what have people been doing with -- or for -- their feline friends?

They’ve been busy. Building castles, for instance. A recent post making the rounds on Facebook showed a number of home projects for kitty, built by cat lovers with plenty of time and cardboard boxes on hand. Castles with crenellated walls and drawbridges, clubhouses (“Dogs keep out!”), a “hissing” booth decorated with a skull and crossbones, a fort with a sniper tower, steps and ladders to elevated entries. No doubt somewhere out there is a French “cat-eau.” Or maybe “chat-eau” is, after all, the correct spelling.

With shorter days, longer nights, colder weather and spiking coronavirus rates, you, too, may be looking for ways to fill your time and entertain your cat. Here are some tips on building a feline freeway or fort; where to buy cat steps and bridges if you’re not handy; and other ways to entertain your cat -- and yourself as you watch him explore and enjoy his new home decor.

For advice on building “up,” we turned to artist and photographer extraordinaire Bob Walker, who, with his artist wife, Frances Mooney, turned their entire house into a cat playground with overhead walkways, spiral staircases, floor-to-ceiling scratching posts and much more. You don’t have to go that far, but Walker says it’s easy to use found objects -- those Amazon boxes that are piling up, wooden or plastic crates, or even a sturdy stepladder -- to create a feline hidey-hole or gym.

When he built a catwalk, he used 2-by-6-inch pieces of wood, which allowed room for cats to turn around or pass one another. For inclines, he inset carpeting, putting carpet tape beneath it to hold it in place. That provided the cats with secure footing as they went up or down. Walker recommends referring to the Public Playground Safety Handbook (cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/325.pdf) to ensure that anything you build takes safety into account, especially if you have kids in the home.

His best tip? Use negative space. “Think of your house in cubic space terms, not square footage,” Walker says. For instance, take advantage of unused space behind objects or furniture or high areas on walls that are otherwise bare.

If you’re handy with an X-acto knife or box knife, you can build a cardboard kitty castle or fort that is as simple or elaborate as you please. To strengthen cardboard, especially if you have multiple levels, reinforce gaps with glue or packing or duct tape. You can also add an extra layer of cardboard in the bottom, cut to fit, or sandwich a piece of foam between two pieces of cardboard. Find inspiration on Pinterest for cardboard or wooden structures.

For the simplest of cardboard projects, take two to four open boxes, tape them together, and fill them with plastic play balls for a moggy mosh pit. Other spaces you can fill with play balls, for impromptu cat hockey games, are bathtubs or kiddie pools.

Don’t want to build anything? You can purchase attractive, high-style cat walks, climbing shelves, hanging beds, play tents, scratching towers, rope bridges, window seats, and furniture on websites such as Hauspanther, Etsy, Wayfair, Chewy, Overstock, Petco and PetSmart. Active cats may love having an exercise wheel to run on. You can find one through a number of online retailers or ask your local pet supply store to order one for you.

For the simplest play of all, make or buy puzzle toys (see foodpuzzlesforcats.com for ideas), or just hide your cat’s kibble or favorite treats around the house so she can “hunt” for them. Or be the goalie in a game of hall hockey with a pingpong ball. Your cat will be delighted.

Q&A

Which crate

for new pup?

Q: I’m getting a new puppy in a few weeks! What should I look for in a crate, and how should I introduce her to it?

A: There are lots of different types of crates with different features. Here are some things to look for as you make your decision.

Wire, plastic and soft carriers each have pros and cons. Wire crates offer good ventilation and views and are easy to cover if necessary. They fold up when not in use, but they can’t be used for air travel. For safety, remove your dog’s collar before putting her in a wire crate.

Some plastic crates have wheels, making them easier to move. Look for one with a top that comes off easily. Top-loading kennels are helpful for Fear Free veterinary visits. Your pup can be examined while he’s still in the carrier if the top comes off, or he can be removed without being forced out. An alternative for small dogs up to 20 pounds is a crate with a bottom that slides out, such as the Van Ness Calm Carrier.

Soft carriers are lightweight. They’re not the best choice for a puppy, but once your dog is grown and trained, they can be a comfy choice for relaxing or suitable for stays in hotel rooms.

Whatever crate you choose, make it attractive to your puppy. Before you pick her up from the breeder or shelter, spray or wipe down the crate with a calming canine pheromone such as Adaptil. At home, place the crate in an area where there’s lots of family activity. Put treats and toys in it for her to find, and feed her in it. Give a treat or leave her with a favorite toy every time you put her in it at naptime or bedtime. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Pre-Columbian

-- We don’t typically associate big cats with the country of Peru, but a giant cat drawing -- a geoglyph -- has been found on the side of a hill at the site of the country’s famous Nazca Lines, pre-Columbian figures etched into the sand and visible from above or from great distances. Archaeologists accidentally uncovered the feline figure on the slope of Mirador Natural Hill as upgrades were being made to the lookout site. The figure of the cat measures more than 120 feet across and dates to approximately 2,000 years ago. Even then, apparently, people were sharing pictures of cats.

-- Seniors who need help adopting and caring for pets can get financial assistance for adoption fees, veterinary care, food and other expenses from nonprofit Pets for the Elderly, which is increasing its efforts to help people and pets stay together to benefit from the human-animal bond. People over 60 can qualify for adoption discounts from participating shelters and apply for aid in covering pet-care costs, including in-home visits from shelter employees to check on the welfare of people and pets. Pets help seniors by keeping them active, and seniors help pets by providing them with homes and love. Win-win!

-- November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Other pet-centric events are National Pet Awareness Month, National Senior Pet Month, Pet Cancer Awareness Month and Pet Diabetes Month. Going on now is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week. Also occurring in November are National Canine Lymphoma Awareness Day (Nov. 7), National Black Cat Day (Nov. 17), and the National Dog Show, broadcast on Thanksgiving Day. In December, celebrate National Cat Lover’s Month, National Mutt Day on Dec. 2, Celebrate Shelter Pets Day on Dec. 5, International Day of Veterinary Medicine on Dec. 9, and National Cat Herders Day on Dec. 15. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

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 Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.