We spend millions of dollars every year to fill feline litter boxes. We fill them with products made from all sorts of absorbent materials along with additives to help with cleanup and smells.
But what about the object you put the litter in? Before you pick up the one of those common plastic trays -- sold anywhere pet supplies can be found -- you need to remember that when it comes to potty choices, your cat's opinion is the only one that really matters.
The cat holds all the cards, because a pet who doesn't like the potty setup -- the box, the filler, the location -- will take her business elsewhere. That means it might take a little imagination and a lot of experimentation before you hit upon the magic combination. (Once you find that magic formula, stick with it for as long as it works, because cats don't react well to change.)
Before I get into the boxes you can buy at pet-supply outlets, I have to mention those that you won't find there. Over the years readers have shared the virtues of larger and deeper litter boxes, using plastic sweater boxes, mortar-mixing trays and oversized dishwashing tubs. Some of these options may be cheaper than products marketed for cats, and for many cats, a larger litter box will definitely keep things neater. For kittens, you might want to think smaller by using a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Visit household-products retailers and home-supply stores (not to mention garage sales) to explore the possibilities.
When it comes to litter pans marketed for cats, you also have plenty of options. Here are a few:
-- Simple plastic pans. Millions of cats have done just fine with this design, and yours may be among them. Relatively inexpensive and widely available, these pans come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Some have special rims to keep more filler in the box. Make sure the one you choose is easy to scrub clean.
-- Covered pans. Manufacturers say covered pans keep down odors and prevent dogs and children from getting into the filler. Unfortunately, some owners take the approach that if they can't smell the litter box or see the mess, it doesn't need attention.
If you choose this kind of pan, don't forget that you must be as on top of its cleaning as you would with any other variety. Don't blame your cat for mistakes if you can't keep the litter box clean. One caution: Cats with asthma should not use a covered litter pan. They need the increased ventilation that an open-air variety offers.
-- Self-cleaning pans. No one likes to clean the litter box, but some cats are so fussy that if you let this important chore wait, your cat may turn up her nose and go elsewhere. In recent years, inventors have come up with new pans that make cleaning a nearly hands-off affair, thanks to the easy-clean properties of clumping cat-box filler.
Some of these boxes have lift-and-sift inserts that collect used clumps as you remove them, while you roll the others over, thereby running litter through a collector that catches and holds the clumps. (This is widely considered to be safe, despite what you might read on the Internet.)
The absolute high-end of the easy-clean line would have to be electric self-cleaning litter boxes. Experience with these products has been across the board: I've heard from readers who absolutely love them, while others thought them a terrible waste of money. Big cats and skittish cats seem to not take to these products, but for others, it may be the perfect solution for keeping things clean.
One related litter-box product I've been impressed with is the Petmate LitterLocker. This product makes it easy to keep the litter box clean by giving pet lovers a place to drop the daily deposits that will hold the mess and smell for a few days. The LitterLocker costs around $60.
Having a product like this should help keep the litter box clean. And that's important, because many cats won't use a dirty litter box, no matter how much thought you've put into choosing the litter, the box and the location.
Not too long ago, performing surgery on rabbits was considered too risky except in life-threatening emergencies, which is why veterinarians sometimes discouraged spaying and neutering. But that's now changed. With today's improvements in anesthesia, it's pretty well accepted that pet rabbits are better off neutered.
The benefits go beyond birth control. Altered rabbits have fewer health and behavior problems than ones who haven't had the procedures done. So get your bunny fixed!
PETS ON THE WEB
Looking for that perfect piece of iguana art for your living room? Trying to find turtle-themed jewelry to wear on that special social occasion? Then you'll want to check out the HerpArts Web site (www.herparts.com), which offers one-stop shopping for reptile-related merchandise.
In addition to the prints and jewelry, the site offers books, note cards, magnets and more. I just can't imagine where else you're going to find a magnet that says, "Proud to be a turtle lover."
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We've always kept our cockatiel's wings clipped, but recently we let them grow out. We've found, to our surprise, that she's quite the flier and seems to enjoy the exercise. She doesn't go outside, of course.
My son -- it's his bird -- thinks it would be cruel to ground her now. What do you think? –- A.F., via e-mail
A: I can understand your desire to let your bird fly in what seems to be a safe environment -- your home. But the truth is that even inside the house, there are many dangers for a flighted bird.
Not all birds need to have their flight feathers kept short, just those pets who come out of their cages to interact with their owners. Finches and canaries are happier if not handled, and their feathers should be left alone so they can fly in their cages for exercise. (The bigger the cage the better!)
But when it comes to most parrots (and that group does include cockatiels and budgies), out-of-cage time is a good thing, the more the better. Loose, flighted birds can get themselves into plenty of trouble, however. Any avian veterinarian can tell you about birds who have slammed into windows, or landed in sizzling frying pans or boiling pots of water. Some have even flown into open toilets and drowned.
Another problem with a flighted bird: Losing your pet is just one open window or door away. Birds who escape to the outdoors are not often recovered, and although some can survive in warmer climates, many won't make it in the wild for long.
Difficult as it may be to keep your bird flightless, clipping her wings is the most responsible thing to do in the interests of her safety.
Your bird's veterinarian or a reputable bird shop will be happy to show you how to trim those flight feathers at the end of each wing, or will do it for you if you'd rather not handle this task on your own.
Q: Our puppy is getting her adult teeth, but a baby "canine" tooth remains, sort of hanging at an angle in front of the adult tooth. Will it fall out on its own? Do we need to worry? -- R.E., via e-mail
A: Baby teeth that stick around after the adult teeth come in are fairly common and nothing much to worry about, really. When your puppy goes in for his last round of vaccinations, mention the problem to your veterinarian. He or she will likely yank the tooth for you.
Chances are it'll fall out before then, though, especially if you encourage your pet to keep chewing vigorously during his teething period. Remember to give your puppy lots to chew on -- especially during teething -- and to praise your pet for using "approved" chewing objects instead of household items. Many times people are quick to punish pets for doing wrong, but take good behavior for granted.
If you catch your pet chewing on something you'd rather she'd leave alone, distract her by clapping your hands, or slapping a hand on a tabletop, and then quickly offer her a chew toy instead. When she takes it, tell her many times over how wonderful she is!
You can make "chewies" such as Kongs or other hollow toys more attractive by stuffing them with a little peanut butter or that cheese-in-a-can product. Some people jam bits of broken biscuits into the toys as well, mashing them into the peanut butter or soft cheese.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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