Universal Press Syndicate
When the weather turns colder and houses close up for warmth, every little thing starts to annoy us. Like the smell of the litter box, or (worse) the smell of a cat who's not using the litter box at all.
But don't blame the cat.
If your cat is hit or miss where the litter box is concerned, chances are the choices you've made factor into the problem. After all, your cat really isn't asking for anything more than you would when it comes to a bathroom. All that's required for most cats is that the bathroom be clean, quiet and offer no surprises.
That sounds simple, but the failure to use a litter box is the top behavior complaint of cat lovers, sending countless cats to shelters every year. Before you even consider such a drastic step, you need to try to work things out with your cat if you have a litter box problem.
The first step in solving such a problem is to make sure it's not a medical condition -- and that means a trip to your veterinarian for a complete workup. Urinary tract infections and diseases such as diabetes make consistent litter box use impossible for even the most well-intentioned cat. You cannot hope to get your cat using the box again until any health issues have been resolved.
If your cat checks out fine, you need to start working to make sure that everything about the box is to your cat's liking. The second rule of solving a litter box problem: If the cat isn't happy, no one will be happy. Here's what to look for.
-- Cleanliness. Cats are fastidious animals, and if the litter box is dirty, they look elsewhere for a place to go. Clean the box frequently -- twice a day at least -- and make sure it's completely scrubbed clean and aired out on a weekly basis. Having an additional litter box may help, too. (Multiple litter boxes are recommended for multicat households, since many cats simply will not share.)
-- Box type and filler. Many choices people make to suit their own tastes conflict with the cat's sense of what's agreeable. A covered box may seem more pleasing to you, but your cat may think it's pretty rank inside or scary. Likewise, scented litters may make you think the box smells fine, but your cat may disagree -- not only is the box dirty, he reasons, but it also has this extra "clean" odor he can't abide. Start with the basics: a large box with unscented clumping-style litter.
-- Location. Your cat's box should be away from his food and water, in a place he can get to easily and feel safe in. Consider a location from a cat's point of view: Choose a quiet spot where he can see what's coming at him. A cat doesn't want any surprises while he's in the box.
Make the area where your cat has had mistakes less attractive by cleaning it thoroughly with a pet-odor neutralizer (available from pet-supply retailers). Discourage reuse by covering the area with foil, plastic sheeting or plastic carpet runners with the points up.
If changing things around doesn't clear up the problem in a healthy cat, you may need to retrain him by keeping your pet in a small area such as a guest bathroom for a couple of weeks.
Make sure the area you choose has no good options besides the litter box -- no carpet, no pile of dirty laundry. Block off the bathtub or keep an inch of water in it to discourage its use as a place to go. After your cat is reliably using the litter box, let him slowly expand his territory again. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain and keep the litter box clean and safe, you have a good chance the good behavior will become permanent.
If you just can't seem to get the problem resolved, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. These veterinarians are skilled in behavioral problem-solving and are able to prescribe medications that may make the difference during the retraining period.
New from the Pet Connection team
As with the two previous titles, "Why Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?" takes on 101 of the best questions ever asked about the subject animal, offering something for people who live to ride, love to pet or even place a bet at the racetrack now and then. Joining the pair to help write the newest book are Teresa Becker, Dr. Becker's wife, who's also an author and award-winning equestrian, and Audrey Pavia, previous editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and the author of several top-selling horse books, including "Horses for Dummies."
Flight no favor to pet parrots
Q: I have a cockatiel, two cats and a miniature poodle. I don't want Spikey to spend his entire life in his cage, so I have given him protection from the other pets by letting him fly free in the house. I don't know why there's all this pressure to keep his wings clipped. I think it's a much better idea that birds be allowed to fly free as nature intended and get away from danger, if needed. Will you please comment on this? -- E.R., via e-mail
A: I face the same challenges you do, with a parrot who loves to wander, a curious cat and four dogs who mostly ignore both the parrot and the cat (as well as the rabbit, Velocity). But interactions between prey and predator species are always tricky, and I'm well aware of the risks and the need for supervision.
That said, I keep Eddie's wings clipped. I give him his "freedom time" on a play stand suspended from the ceiling, or with just the two of us in my home office while I work, with the other pets on the far side of the louvered doors.
Why not leave him flighted? It's a matter of balancing risks and working toward good behavior.
Avian veterinarians see the result of letting pet birds fly free every day: birds who have slammed into windows, landed in sizzling frying pans and touched down in boiling pots of water. Some birds have even flown into open toilets and drowned.
My "Birds for Dummies" co-author, avian specialist Dr. Brian L. Speer, has seen all these kinds of tragedies, along with birds who've landed in ovens, in fireplaces and into the open drooling mouths of dogs and cats. Birds don't always have the presence of mind to fly away from danger, after all.
With wings clipped, Eddie stays pretty much where I put him for his recreation, on a safe play stand with plenty of toys. And if a door or window is open for too long, I don't have to worry about him flying through it, to be gone forever.
These risks are why pet parrots need to have their wings kept trimmed and be trained to stay safely in and on top of cages and play stands. An avian veterinarian or reputable bird shop will be happy to keep your bird's wings properly trimmed so your pet can manage a soft landing in a pinch, but no lift-off.
The benefits besides safety: Birds whose wings are kept in good trim may be less likely to engage in dominant behavior. And a well-socialized bird with wings safely trimmed may enjoy accompanying you on trips outside the home. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Words for those who love, hate cats
-- An ailurophile is a cat fancier, a lover of cats. Don't like cats? Then you're an ailurophobe, defined as someone who hates or fears cats.
-- Researchers recently sampled shelter dogs to look at the prevalence of canine intestinal parasites in four different regions in the United States. Looking at the data from 6,458 samples, hookworms were found in 19.2 percent of the dogs, roundworms in 14.5 percent and whipworms in 14.3 percent. Some 36 percent of all dogs, and 52 percent of dogs sampled from southeastern states, harbored at least one major intestinal parasite. The research strongly suggests that all pets should be on a parasite control program year-round for their entire lifetime. This not only protects pets, but also the human family.
-- Like people, animals have different blood types. There are more than a dozen known types for dogs, while cats have three types: A, B or AB.
-- The only species that can hold its tail vertically while walking is the domestic cat.
-- A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that lost dogs are found more often than cats. Overall, 71 percent of lost dogs were recovered, compared to only 53 percent of lost cats. The primary reasons given for the difference: About 47 percent of dogs had identification on them, but only 14 percent of missing cats had any ID. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Turn great shots into gorgeous art
The digital age continues to astound me. Laser Pals will take your favorite digital image of your pet (or your house, boat, car, what-have-you) and etch it in fine detail onto a piece of black granite. The results are eye-popping, with every hair or detail turned into permanent art by the process.
I found the best picture of my three retrievers that I've ever taken (Woody, McKenzie and Heather) and uploaded it to the Laser Pals Web site (www.laserpals.com) in just a few minutes -- the instructions are easy to follow. Within a few days I held in my hands a lovely laser-etched version of the image. It now sits on top of my desk, and it's truly gorgeous.
Laser Pals will turn your image into a framed etching on stone starting at $70 for the small size (8 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches, including frame). Memorial products are also available, including plaques with the pet's name and other information as well as urns with the plaques on front. -- Gina Spadafori
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Give freedom as reward for your dog's obedience
If the only time you call your off-leash dog is to go home, the "come" command is quickly associated with ending fun, and it may result in your dog deciding there's nothing in it for him to mind you. You need to train your dog to understand that if he comes, it doesn't mean an end to the fun. But if he doesn't, then there is work to do. Here's how to do it:
When out on a walk, begin calling your dog to you when he is not focused on anything else (such as a squirrel). This way, you set a pattern of giving him praise when he comes and sits for you. Provide a treat and lots of praise (or just praise if you haven't any treats) if he sits close enough that you can also touch his collar. Otherwise, he might learn to run off when you reach for him. Try for at least 10 recalls on each off-leash walk.
For the next step, have your dog drag a 20-foot leash that you can step on if he ignores your recall request. This makes it easier to insist that he come and sit. Praise lavishly when he comes to you, and be sure to release him for more freedom after his best recall and sit. Your dog's worst performance is reason to attach the leash and go home.
He should eventually realize that if he comes to you, more freedom is always an option. But if he doesn't come when called, it means several minutes of intensive work, or an end to freedom. A favored food or toy reward is always good. But in the context of teaching your dog that coming when called is never a bad thing, freedom is the biggest payment of all.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
As seen on TV
How do you find out about what's new in pet-care products? If you're like most pet lovers, you see information about new products on TV. What gets the news out, according to a 2006 poll (more than one answer allowed):
TV ad 59 percent
Browse in store 58 percent
Print ad 43 percent
Veterinarian 29 percent
Friend/relative 26 percent
Pet store staff 16 percent
Internet 11 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
PETS ON THE WEB
The real story on pit bulls
Throughout the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal, one group served as a strong and sensible advocate for the dogs that the former NFL quarterback was alleged to have mistreated. Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls -- BADRAP, for short -- also worked to make the most of a prime opportunity to educate people about this much-maligned collection of related breeds.
BADRAP continues to argue against breed bans and in favor of each pit bull being evaluated as an individual when being considered as a pet. The group's new blog added an element of timeliness to a Web site (www.badrap.org) that can't be topped when it comes to pit bull advocacy and education. The site offers information about these dogs in a way that's both sensible and cautionary.
As the pit bull debate continues, it's important to understand as much as possible about what's behind the problems with pit bulls -- and to explore all possible solutions. BADRAP can help. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600