KEEP YOUR INDOOR CAT HEALTHY, HAPPY WITH TOYS AND GAMES
When we think of pets who need exercise and playtime, cats do not automatically spring to mind, but they should.
Our domestic cats don't need to hunt for a living, but they still have those natural instincts to chase, climb and hide. Toys, games and other forms of entertainment enrich your cat's life and burn calories, keeping him happy and healthy. And kitty playtime takes only two or three minutes several times each day. Here are some of our favorite ways to keep cats active, both physically and mentally.
-- Get a move on! Cats are attracted by motion. Even the laziest of cats gets excited by the bouncing beam of a flashlight or laser pointer. Following the fast, erratic motion enhances a cat's ability to think and move quickly. To give your cat a real workout, direct the light beam up and down stairs or walls, encouraging the cat to run and jump. Be careful not to shine a laser pointer in your cat's eyes. Chasing a pingpong ball down the hall will also get your cat moving. Some cats will even bring it back to you.
-- Gone fishin'. Other toys that arouse a cat's desire to chase are fishing-pole toys, which have flexible handles attached to lines with furry or feathery lures at the end. Dangle it over your cat's head or drag it in front of him and watch him become a silent stalker: ears forward, rear twitching, then pouncing on his prey, rolling and kicking to "kill" it. His amazing flips and spins in pursuit of the lure will keep your kitten -- and you -- entertained for hours, or at least until your cat is ready for another nap. Just remember to put it away when you're not around to supervise: You don't want your cat swallowing the string and developing a dangerous intestinal obstruction.
-- Live-action entertainment. A peaceful way to give your cat a taste of the hunt is to set a bird feeder just outside the window. The birds stay safely outdoors and get a meal out of the deal, while your cat's life is made more interesting on his side of the window. This is a great way to encourage your cat to do a little jumping -- onto the windowsill -- and to appeal to his birder nature.
-- Kitty brain candy. The rapid movements of birds, meerkats, aquarium fish and other prey animals are like crack for cats. Feed your cat's hunger for prey in a nonviolent way by turning on a nature show or popping in a DVD made especially for cats. Make sure your TV is securely placed so it won't fall over if your cat decides to leap at the screen in a vain attempt to score a meal.
-- Will play for food. The pet stores have a variety of food puzzles -- toys you put food into for your cat to work out. If you can't find a food puzzle your cat likes, try a homemade version. Put dry food inside an empty paper towel roll, and let your cat figure out how to get at it. Or get a Wiffle ball and insert pieces of kibble. They'll fall out when your cat bats the ball around.
-- Hide and seek. Put an empty paper sack or a cardboard box with a little packing paper inside it on the floor and let your cat explore. He'll love the dark interiors and crinkly noises. Boxes are extra fun when you have two cats, providing the perfect way to play hide-and-seek.
Use your imagination to keep your cat busy. So many cats these days are indoors, which is good for them, the neighbors and the wildlife. But when you close the door on your cat, you need to make the indoors more interesting. Fortunately, doing so strengthens the bond between you and your pet.
Rabbit perfect pet
for condo living
Q: Our condo association allows small dogs, cats and birds, but no rabbits, guinea pigs or "exotic" pets. I'm renting a place, and I would like to buy. Right now, I have my pet rabbit "in secret," but I'm not going to buy a place if I can't have the pet of my choice and stay compliant. How can I get this rule changed? -- via email
A: Your condo association is probably still thinking of rabbits as "livestock," not as pets. In fact, I can think of few animals better suited for condo or apartment living than a neutered house rabbit. They're about the quietest pet I could think of owning, for one thing, and they're unlikely to cause any conflict with neighbors.
They're small. Even the biggest rabbits aren't much larger than a cat, and dwarf rabbits are considerably smaller. They're also neat. A daily brushing will catch loose hair, and a vacuum will pick up scattered hay, food pellets or the occasional stray feces (it's pea-sized, dry and round) that don't make it into the litter box. Yes, a litter box: Many rabbits can be reliably trained to use a box filled with a little cat litter with fresh grass hay on top, changed daily.
The one downside I can think of is that rabbits will engage in destructive chewing if left to choose their own recreation. Even this problem is easily solved by "rabbit-proofing" the living area -- blocking off attractive chewing areas, putting power cords into protective covers -- and offering safe chewing alternatives.
I'd make the case to the association to expand its pet rules to include rabbits. If it won't, you should have no problem finding another complex that will welcome a responsible homeowner with such a quiet pet. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Economy takes bite
out of pet ownership
-- The economy appears to have finally dropped the rate of pet ownership, which has been on a seemingly recession-proof upward climb for years. According to figures released by the American Veterinary Medical Association and based on a survey of 50,000 households, 56 percent of all U.S. households reported owning a pet at the end of 2011, down 2.4 percent from the trade group's last survey, in 2006. The U.S. population of dogs was around 70 million (a drop of 2 million), while cat ownership took a steeper decline, down 7.6 million to 74.1 million. Birds were down 20.6 percent over five years, while exotics (ferrets, rabbits, reptiles and rodents) fell 16.5 percent over the same period.
-- Dogs and cats are primary carriers of allergens (their dander, urine and saliva trigger allergy responses) as well as secondary carriers. Their coats are like a dust mop filled with whatever pollen is in the air or on the ground. Weekly baths with a hypoallergenic shampoo have been shown to help.
-- Cats tend to be chronically dehydrated and they are finicky about their drinking water, so keeping a clean, fresh supply on hand all the time is important to their good health. A continuous-flow drinking fountain is a great way to fulfill your cat's desire to drink running water without having a dripping faucet all the time. These fountains, which are available at pet-supply stores or through pet-supply websites and catalogs, make a steady supply of running water available to your cat, recycling and filtering it so it stays fresh.
-- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 Vetstreet.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.