Cabin fever can be the bane of an indoor cat's existence, but it doesn't have to be that way.
You don't have to open the door to the great outdoors to provide your cat with a more interesting life. In fact, by just looking at your home from a cat's point of view and adding a few environmental enrichments, your cat can be both safe and happy indoors. Here are five easy ways to get going:
-- Think vertical. Cats love to climb, so give them the opportunity. Cat trees mounted floor-to-ceiling, wrapped with sisal rope and studded with platforms for perching, will give your cat the opportunity to look down on the rest of the world. This is especially satisfying if there are dogs in the household, because what cat wouldn't like to look down on the dog?
-- Add toys. The cat with the most toys wins. Every indoor cat should have toys for batting around, toys for chasing, toys for hiding in and toys for interactive play. And don't forget that some of those toys ought to have catnip in them. While not all cats can enjoy the fragrant herb, those who do find it blissful in the extreme. If your cat is a catnip junkie, indulge him frequently. Rub fresh catnip onto cat trees or scratching posts, or stuff it into toys. It's perfectly safe for your cat to enjoy the buzz.
Some of the most enjoyable toys for both people and cats are the interactive ones. Every cat lover should have a "kitty tease" toy, typically a flexible rod with a line that ends in something furry or feathery to engage a cat's prey drive. Other interactive toys include gloves with goodies dangling from the fingertips, or laser pointers that offer cats a spot of light to chase. (Just be careful not to aim the beam in your cat's eyes.)
-- Provide rooms with views. No matter how big your house, your indoor cat will know every one of its sights and sounds within just a few days. Provide a little visual stimulation by putting a bird feeder outside a window fitted with a cat-sized ledge for comfortable viewing.
Be aware, though, that a view of the world isn't always going to work for your cat. If your yard is attracting other cats from the neighborhood, your own cat may become frustrated by seeing them, and he can even turn that frustration into attacks on people in the house. Blocking visiting cats from your yard or discouraging them with sprinklers may solve the problem. Otherwise, you may have to make certain windows off-limits to your own cat.
If a window view isn't going to work, try a TV. A few companies offer DVDs for cats. Pop one of these in, and your cat can be entertained with a lively mix of feline-friendly images and sounds, including those of birds and rodents.
-- Go green. Cats love nibbling on plants. Any decent feline reference book will provide a list of which plants should not be in a pet-friendly house, or visit the Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc) for information on dangerous plants.
After you get the unsafe plants out of the way, protect your decorative houseplants by hanging them up or otherwise putting them out of reach. Keep cats from digging in your decorative pots by putting a layer of small, rough stones over the dirt. You can then add a collection of accessible plants for your cat to nibble on, such as grass shoots, or to enjoy rubbing, such as catnip, valerian or rosemary.
-- Give face time. Of course, one of the best things you can do for your indoor cat is to spend time with him. Playing, grooming, petting or just plain hanging out -- it's all good. Your cat loves you and loves spending time with you.
Keeping a cat inside is one of the best ways to ensure a long and healthy life, but it won't be that happy an existence unless you're going to add some interest to the surroundings. It doesn't take much in the way of time or effort, so get going. Your cat will thank you!
Tips for getting fussy cat to eat
Q: I have a finicky cat. I know, I know: Cats are supposed to be finicky, but I'm so tired of trying to get this cat to eat and throwing away food afterward. The vet says he's fine. Suggestions? -- G.W., via e-mail
A: Although some cats have never met a dish of food they didn't love, others are very picky about what they eat. Feeding cats a wide variety of flavors and brands can help keep them from fixating on one particular food. Warming canned food to just about room temperature can also tempt a finicky feline.
Be aware, however, that your cat may not be as finicky as you think. If you leave dry food down all the time, he may be nibbling constantly throughout the day and thus never eating very much in any one observed sitting. The amount of food any one cat in a multicat household eats can be especially difficult to determine if food is always available. Cats with access to the outdoors may additionally be mooching off the neighbors or supplementing the rations you give him by hunting.
Finickiness in a healthy cat is not a reason for concern as long as your pet's not losing weight. A half-pound or even a pound gradually up or down is no big deal, but more than that and you need to call your veterinarian. Weight loss is often one of the first indications that something is wrong with your cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: Our house is on the dry side even though we run a humidifier in winter. My cat's skin has been extremely dry. Is there something I can do to eliminate this massive white dander he is scratching out? -- P.T., via e-mail
A: Don't be so certain the low humidity in your house is causing the problem. After all, cats are descended from desert-dwelling creatures, and low humidity alone shouldn't cause a massive amount of flakiness.
See your veterinarian to determine what's causing your pet's skin to be so flaky.
By the way, other pets actually do have a problem with the dry air of the modern home, most notably birds. Many species of pet parrots originally came from hot, humid environments. For these, dry air presents a problem and may contribute to feather-picking. That's why parrots need to be offered frequent opportunities to get damp, such as by being misted or being allowed to bathe. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Mixed-breed cats are most popular
-- Most cat lovers have never been that interested in pedigrees: Plain ol' domestic cats of all backgrounds, markings and coat lengths are by far the most popular. Among cats with papers, the most popular breed is the Persian, followed by the Maine coon, the exotic (a shorthaired Persian), Siamese and Abyssinian. In the United Kingdom, what Americans call DSH (domestic shorthair) and DLH (domestic longhair) cats go by the much more endearing name of "Moggy."
-- Reports of a flood of Chihuahuas in shelters has prompted the relocation of many of these dogs to parts of the country where they remain in demand. Newspaper reports show that Chihuahuas and Chi mixes are the top dog in Los Angeles shelters and make up one-third of the dogs for adoption in San Francisco shelters. Why the little dogs are so popular is a matter for speculation, but some blame the influence of celebrities such as Paris Hilton and movies such as "Legally Blonde" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."
-- The New York Racing Association will levy harsh penalties on owners and trainers who either directly or indirectly sell a horse for slaughter, revoking the right to book stall space at the association's tracks -- Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. In the meantime, Reuters reports that horsemeat is falling off the menu in France, a trend that may finally force North America to find more humane solutions to the problem of unwanted horses.
-- Dog breeds at animal shelters are misidentified about 75 percent of the time, according to a study by Canada's College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University. The findings bring into question the ability of animal control officials to ID -- and mark for killing -- shelter "pit bulls" in jurisdictions where they are banned. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Muddy paws can be tamed, even in winter
The best way to keep floors clean is to never let them get dirty. And that means catching those muddy paws before they come inside. Here are some tips:
-- Use mats. Put washable mats both inside and outside the door. A small door mat can be jumped over, so go for something larger, at least during the rainy season. The wider the area of matting, the more chance you have of every paw hitting the mat at least once. Try a 3-foot-by-5-foot black industrial mat on either side of the door: It catches lots of mud and hoses off easily outside.
-- Teach dogs to wait for wiping. It's not difficult to teach a dog to wait on the mat for a paw cleaning. If you're patient and positive, you'll be able to teach your pet to offer each paw in turn and stand patiently while you towel it off.
-- Save your old towels. When towels get too ratty for guests to see, save them for use with your pets. Old towels may be ugly, but they are great for wiping paws, drying fur and even swiping a muddy paw print off the floor. You can also find super-absorbent towels and mitts made specifically for wiping paws. If you do need to buy paw wipes, then check prices on shop towels.
-- Never let a mess settle in. If a muddy paw gets past you, don't delay your cleanup. While this isn't such a hard-and-fast rule for such easy-clean surfaces as tile and hardwoods, it's an absolute commandment when it comes to carpets. Keep cleaning supplies well-stocked and at hand, and be sure to jump on a muddy paw print -- or any pet mess -- before it can set. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Canine information boom online
The quality and accuracy of online information on dog care and training is very uneven -- and some of it is dangerous -- but that hasn't slowed the growth of the Internet as a reference source for dog owners. The percent of those who use it:
1998 5 percent
2000 15 percent
2002 14 percent
2004 19 percent
2006 23 percent
2008 27 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Bigger pet cages are always better
If you had to spend your life in a cage, you'd want it to be as big as possible, wouldn't you? Then why settle for a tiny cage for your bird, reptile or small mammal?
Forget the pet store's labels or recommendations. For them, cage size recommendations are based on what they believe a customer will pop for -- in other words, the cheapest option available.
Think bigger! Go one size larger than the pet-store recommendations. For a budgie, for example, get a cage sized for a cockatiel, while cockatiels should be in cages sized for small parrots.
While you're introducing that larger cage to your pet, don't forget to enrich the environment with a variety of toys (and perches, for birds). Life in a cage isn't natural for any animal, so the least you can do is make that life more interesting. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.