Every year, I make the rounds of pet-industry trade shows and veterinary conferences, and every year I at least glance at thousands of new pet-care products. While a few are truly innovative, many are just variations on a theme as companies work to mimic top sellers as closely as they can without getting sued.
Whether any new product will catch on is anyone's guess, though few will reach the level of those that truly have changed the way we live with our pets.
I recently mentioned five such products for dogs. Now, here's equal time for cats, with a handful of items that have changed the world for cat lovers:
While the idea of keeping a box inside for cats to use as a potty was around for a while, it never really took off until Edward Lowe happened upon what he called "kitty litter" in 1947. His dad owned a company that made industrial cleanup materials, and when someone asked him to suggest something for a cat box, he filled up a bag of Fuller's Earth, a kind of absorbent clay. When Lowe sold his Kitty Litter company decades later, he was rich beyond his wildest dreams, and cats had become more popular than dogs as pets. Today, more than 80 percent of cat owners have litter boxes in their homes, although clumping litter is used in most of them now, not the material on which Lowe built his company.
Scratching posts/cat trees
Clawing is natural, normal and very satisfying for cats. While cat lovers may understand the normal and natural behavior, they're not on board with the satisfying when then shredded objects include the furniture. No one knows who first came up with the idea of providing cats an approved place to scratch, but the idea was a great one for both cats and people. While scratching posts used to look like DIY fright shows covered in dreadful colors of leftover '70s shag carpet, today it is easy to find cat trees and other related items that keep cats happy and divert attention from the corner of the sofa.
Cats are notorious for roaming, even if they have to slip out against an owner's wishes to do it. They're also pretty good at slipping out of their collars, since cat collars are designed to give way if a cat gets caught on something. Problem is, a cat with no ID tag is unlikely to be reunited with her family, and shelter workers sadly note that many "strays" turned in are obviously lost pets.
The microchip betters the odds of a reunion, since most shelters scan lost pets for such ID. The size of a grain of rice and easily implanted at a veterinarian's office or shelter, the microchip is the best insurance you can buy to help your cat come home when lost.
Cat fishing toys
Cats love string, but string can be a problem for cats. Young cats and kittens sometimes swallow string, and that can lead to a crisis that requires surgery. That's why whoever first thought of tying one end of a string to a pole and the other to a cat toy deserves a nod for coming up with what may be the best cat toy ever. You can find all kinds of variations on the cat fishing toy, and you can even make your own. It's all good -- and it keeps your cat busy, you amused and the claws on the end of the string. Runner-up: Laser pointer, and only second because you can't make it on your own.
While many cats still come and go as they please, owners who let them out do expose them to the risks of being hit by cars, eaten by coyotes, poisoned or trapped by cat-hating neighbors and more. But the inside life isn't perfect, either: Many indoor cats are bored and overweight, and that latter is a problem that leads to some serious health issues. Cat patios, or catios, can help by offering cats some safe outdoor space to enjoy. While these can be purchased ready-made, they're also a pretty easy DIY project that can easily be made from scrap lumber and some inexpensive screening.
That's my list! Feel free to drop me a note with your favorites for cats, dogs or others pets, to email@example.com.
Bigger box may
keep cat happy
Q: We have what you could call "hit and miss" behavior regarding our cat and the litter box. Sometimes she goes in the box but leaves her mess outside it. And sometimes she doesn't seem to like the litter (we buy what's on sale). Ideas? -- via email
A: If you want your cat to use her litter box, ask her opinion first. If your cat isn't happy, you won't be happy, either.
Start with the filler. Let your cat choose from a litter "buffet." Buy at least four different types of litter. Choose at least one that is the clumping kind -- the No. 1 choice of most cats. If your clumping option is scented, offer an unscented clumping one, too. We may love scented products, but cats generally don't. Fill each box with at least 2 inches of litter, and see which litter she prefers. Donate the rejected brands to a local shelter or rescue group.
I'm also guessing the litter box may be too small. Your cat's litter box should be one and a half to two times as long as your cat's length from nose to tail. That gives her enough space to turn around in the box and dig. If you can't find a box at the pet store that's an appropriate size, a plastic sweater box or an underbed storage box makes a great cat box.
Don't bother with box liners: Scrub the box with a solution of bleach and water regularly, rinse well and allow to air dry. It's always handy to have two boxes, so while one's air-drying, the other is available. Better yet, have three: Two fresh and available for use and another on standby. Some cats are so particular about their boxes that they'll use one for urine and the other for feces. (I actually own one such cat myself!) -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
'Four on the floor'
describes most cats
-- Most cats have five toes on their front paws, but only four of them hit the ground. The fifth toe is called a dewclaw and is found on the inside of the front paw. The dewclaw is the feline equivalent of our thumb, and it's used for grasping prey and climbing trees. A normal feline back paw, by the way, has four toes that are all called into service when walking. Any number of toes over the norm (usually an extra one or two, but occasionally as many as three or four) makes a cat polydactyl, which means "many fingers." Polydactylism is a dominant genetic trait, which means just one polydactyl parent is enough to make a litter of polydactyl kittens. These cats are also called "Hemingway cats," after the ones kept by Ernest Hemingway.
-- Dogs who bite children often have no priors, according to Veterinary Economics magazine, which reported on research from the journal Injury Prevention. In a study of 100 dog bites from 103 dogs presented at a behavior clinic over a four-year period, 20 percent of the dogs had never bitten anyone, and of those who had, 33 percent had never bitten a child before. Researchers think anxiety or pain may play a part in uncharacteristic aggression. Three-quarters of the biters exhibited anxiety when separated from their owners or when exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks. Half of the biting dogs had medical conditions such as skin or bone growths, eye or liver problems, kidney disease, hormonal conditions or infection.
-- Cats may be the No. 1 pet in the United States in terms of popularity, but dogs rule at the veterinary office. According to the American Veterinary Medical Assoc., dogs average 2.6 veterinary visits per year, while cats top out at 1.7. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
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 affiliated with Vetsteet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.