DEAR DR. FOX: When it comes to litter boxes, I don't understand the "rule" of one per cat, plus an extra.
I have two litter boxes for my two cats, but both use the same one -- even if it's already been used. In my previous apartment, there was no room for more than one box, and even in the house where I had two boxes on each floor, they both used the same one most of the time. I use newspaper instead of purchasing litter; I started with shredded and now use whole sheets that they enjoy shredding themselves. It's very absorbent and cuts the foul stool odor after a short while. -- I.I., Hendersonville, North Carolina
DEAR I.I.: I do not know from which cat expert you received this advice about cat litter boxes, but my experts are my own cats. They will share a litter box amicably and without any complications -- such as pooping outside the box -- provided the box is cleaned out three to four times a day.
I feel for those poor cats whose boxes are not kept clean so they must poke around in their own waste to dig a pit to evacuate and then to cover. Just as bad is having to enter a covered box that has not been kept clean, filled with the fumes of acrid urine and feces. This does contribute to cats developing cystitis from holding their urine; to urinating elsewhere in the home, which is a death sentence for many cats; and to constipation and aversion of using the litter box.
For details, see my article "Cat Litter Box" on this complex but essential aspect of caring for cats posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
DEAR DR. FOX: My wife and I recently rescued a 2-year-old Chihuahua-mix with a puppy mill history who needs potty training. We reward and praise her on our walks when she does her stuff. We take her out many times on the same schedule; however, once inside, she has accidents and without any indications of wanting or needing to go outside.
Are there any hints or insights you can provide? She sleeps on the floor in a small fenced enclosure in our bedroom. We get her out immediately when she wakes in the morning -- if we don't, she will have an accident. It would be good if she would sleep an hour or so later as well. -- A.P., Winston-Salem, North Carolina
DEAR A.P.: Good for you taking in a former puppy mill dog. This business is a sickening side of humanity -- sorry, of our inhumanity -- when it comes to so many puppy mill breeders here and abroad who keep these poor dogs in small cages and treat their pups like commodities.
My advice to people seeking a dog or puppy: Never buy a pup without seeing the breeding facility and the pup's parents. There are so many scams you can avoid, such as buying online or from a pet store. Go local -- to the animal shelter or to a local, reputable breeder of a particular breed you have in mind.
As for your Chihuahua's incontinence, it may be physical or behavioral. First, have her urine tested for possible cystitis, a common affliction in young dogs, which can lead to house soiling.
Second, the behavioral consideration: She may have been confined in a small cage, so she got into the habit of urinating inside the enclosure. If she sleeps well in a long and narrow pen or dog crate and does not cry all night to get out, crate training may help.
Since most dogs will not evacuate where they sleep, have her sleeping pad or pillow set at one end of the enclosure and a puppy pee-pad securely laid down at the other far end. Put some of her urine on the first pad you put down so she gets the scent and hopefully understands that this is where she must urinate while confined.
She should not need any food or water overnight in the enclosure, but she may enjoy a chew toy or two. Later, when she is trained, you can leave the crate or enclosure open during the day so she can use it as her den if she wishes, and her toilet, too!
COLORADO CAT TESTS POSITIVE FOR PLAGUE
A Weld County, Colorado, pet cat tested positive for plague, and the cat and its owner are undergoing treatment.
Plague is spread through flea bites and contact with infected animals, so flea control medication is an important preventive measure. So is keeping cats indoors and not allowing them to roam free and unsupervised outdoors.
Remember: The plague, called the Black Death, caused by the bacterium yersinia pestis, wiped out 30 to 50 percent of Europe's population between 1347 and 1351, at which time there was no effective treatment.
FIND OUT IF ADVENTURE CATTING IS FOR YOU AND YOUR CAT
Adventure catting involves taking pet cats on outdoor excursions, and in "Adventure Cats," author Laura Moss explains the particulars, including training cats from the outset, acclimating them to a harness and walks outdoors. Not all cats may be interested, enthusiasts note, but when they are, adventures can provide a great bonding experience for human and pet.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)