The big box full of sand

Choosing a litter box for your new kitten requires more thought than you’d think.

How big? Litter boxes should be about 1 and 1/2 times the length of the full-grown cat. They need room to dig, turn around, eliminate and then cover it. If the litter box is too small, then you might see a cat with all four feet planted in the sand peeing over the side. This kitty thinks he’s being clean, but you won’t.

Covered? Better not, but I know there are other considerations here. Some cats will accept a covered litter box. And it might be better in your household, especially if you have to make sure a dog isn’t snacking from the litter box, or if you have multiple cats and some who might ambush someone using the box. Often, a hardware store storage tote with a hole cut into the side can work, it’s larger, and with clear sides, it can help cats to feel less confined than in a litter box.

How many? In general, you should have one litter box for each cat, plus one. This is to prevent the situation where a timid cat won’t go past a bully on the way to the bathroom. This is also why you should put the litter boxes in different areas of the house, out of sight from one another.

Next week, how to choose when you’re looking at a wall of litter choices. (Yes, most of the differences are meant to appeal to you, not your new kitty).

Cat travel or the (not so) scary box

How to choose a carrier? Well, it’s not as straight-forward as you think.

If you will be taking your cat for long distance travel, for instance on an airline, there are certain standards that the carrier will have to meet. Those carriers tend to be roomy, very sturdy and lockable. They can also be quite heavy.

Catit Design Cabrio Cat Multi-Functional Carrier System - Gray/Gray - 51 cm L x 33 cm W x 35 cm H (20 in x 13 in x 13.75 in)

The other end of the spectrum is the more fashionable carrier with fabric sides and a frame. These carriers can also meet airline specs, but would only be suitable for cabin travel for your kitty. They are lighter, but can sometimes feel too flexible. You have to carry them carefully (not by the shoulder strap) so kitty doesn’t bounce around.

Cat Tote

A more typical carrier has a front door, and sometimes a top door. Lighter plastic, but perhaps not sturdy enough for long distance transport. One thing that makes a visit to the veterinary clinic harder with these types of carriers — it’s not easy to take the lid off (all those screws to undo, and when they get old, they get seized up). For a reluctant cat, the extraction process can be very stressful.

My choice would be this carrier. It’s light, with a nice big knob to open the door. The top and bottom are fastened together with hinge-style clips that are easy to flip, so the top can be removed.

Catit Profile Voyageur Cat Carrier - Pink - Small - 48.3 cm L x 32.6 cm W x 28 cm H (19 in x 12.8 in x 11 in)

With stressed-out cats, leaving them in the bottom of the carrier for the visit to the clinic allows the cat to feel contained and safer, while allowing me to do most of my physical examination. Way easier than chasing a scared cat around the room, and way less frightening for kitty and for you.

Next time, tips on how to use your carrier every day and how to get kitty to the vet.

What are the essentials for a kitten?

If you ask Google, there are a lot of kitten supplies checklists, and some of them are daunting!

What does a new kitten need? Here are the basics.

A way to get your little one home – a carrier.

Food and water. Kittens need kitten food, and fresh clean water.

A place to eliminate. Kittens will naturally use a litter box if it’s attractive and easy to find.

A place to sleep. Your little one needs a safe, warm place to rest.

Something to play with. If you don’t provide the toys, kittens will decide what household items to play with.

Now, there is a lot more to cover with each item. For instance, some carriers make a trip to the vet easier for kitty – and I think we all agree a less stressed kitty makes for a happier owner. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I expand on these cat essentials.

What else would be on your list of kitten essentials?

What about a new kitten?

You want to add a new kitten to your household? How exciting!

Please, please, please don’t make this an impulse buy (or an impulse free-kitten decision). I know kittens are cute, and cuddly and give us lots of good feelings, but be aware cats often live into their teens. Think about your lifestyle, and whether you expect to make major changes in the next while. Will you be able to commit to looking after this little life?

For instance, if you are planning to relocate and may need to live in rental housing, consider whether you will be able to keep a cat with you. In some jurisdictions, landlords are allowed to prohibit pets, and some condo boards do not allow pets.

Are you planning to move overseas or have extended periods of travel? If you might want to take your cat with you to another country, there are different laws and requirements for microchip identification, rabies vaccination and parasite treatments. Some countries require a time in quarantine. Depending on your destination, taking a pet overseas with you can take months of planning and cost thousands of dollars.

If you are at time in your life where a 15-year decision is reasonable, then stay tuned as we talk more about choosing a kitten and getting your home ready for this little bundle of energy.

If not, then why not consider offering to spend some time cat cuddling or fostering for your local shelter or rescue. In our area, there are some rescues who are doing wonderful work, and our local SPCA branch.

Kittens are great, but not every home is a great place for a kitten.

Max and The New Kitten

Dear Max,

You were the perfect cat for students. You loved to drape yourself across our textbooks and notebooks as we studied. You were fastidious and forgiving. We sometimes let the litter box go longer than ideal and there were no problems. You were easy to feed. We could just keep food in the bowl at all times and you would eat what you needed. And you loved to cuddle on a warm lap in the evening.

One summer, I worked at a horse farm and show venue. I’ll tell the story of how that little scrawny kitten came to our apartment when I write letters to him, but you were the unfortunate victim of that decision so I’ll share your challenges here.

You were about four years old when I arrived home from work, smelling of horses and sweat and dirt, with a scrawny little black and white kitten in a fruit basket. He squalled and cried and puffed up like a pint-sized Halloween cat when he saw you.

Because Dennis was just six weeks old when he came to live with us, you were able to adapt to him as he grew. He couldn’t climb or keep up with you at first, so you were able to approach him at will. You could also easily escape by simply jumping up onto the furniture. I think this made a huge difference in how well you accepted him.

I recall you took it pretty much in stride until Dennis grew up a little. Juvenile cats are active, playful and can be quite rough. You were the victim of the rough, and aside from some swearing and spitting, you dealt with him very well. He did learn a few manners (not many, but a few) with your gentle guidance.

The biggest problem came when Dennis discovered an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet in the food bowl.

It took us a while to realize there was a problem. Because there were two of us putting food into the bowl on a regular basis, it wasn’t the amount of food that tipped us off. It was a younger cat starting to look a little fat and the older cat (you) starting to look a little too thin.

That’s when I realized that some cats, like you, are great at self-regulation with their food. Others, like Dennis, feel the urge to empty the bowl, even when they are obviously getting more than they need.

How did we solve the problem? Well, we figured out how much of the food you needed (¾ cup a day each). Dennis adapted by figuring out that he just needed to be annoying and persistent to score an extra meal, so we started a chart on a dry erase board on the fridge. Morning and evening feedings for 2 cats, checked off when they were given. Two bowls in different rooms, so you didn’t have to wait behind Mr. Greedy for your food.

You were never a heavy cat, but you did gain back the weight and maintained it well, as long as we kept track.

Thank you for accepting this new homeless kitten into our lives with such grace and tolerance.

What did this teach me?

  • You need to keep track of how much food your pets are eating. Aside from their weight, changes in food intake can tell you a lot about their health. Setting up a simple feeding plan (how much, who, when) can help a lot. Dry erase boards are your friend if you have multiple pets.
  • Cats can adjust to changes in the household, but you should introduce new pets slowly and make sure they have escape options in case things get too stressful.

Cats with claws

We don’t declaw cats any more unless there is a health issue.

We know that scratching is a natural behaviour and cats are healthier when they can express these behaviours So how do we manage scratching without allowing destruction of our homes and furniture?

By learning more about the reasons cats scratch, and providing the best places on earth for scratching to happen in our homes.

cat scratch

There are some great cat-focused organizations that offer wonderful advice. The American Association of Feline Practitioners have a cat owner website with lots of information about cat scratching and clawing behaviour and how you can set up a scratching post as well as how to deter your cat from selected areas.

If those tips don’t work, then the folks who make underground fencing for dogs also offer indoor cat solutions — often for less cost than a declaw surgery, and certainly at less stress and pain for your kitty.

If you’re at your wits’ end and don’t know what to do, call us. We’ve been there.

Why Cats?

I think this is an important question for the cat lovers we’ll meet here, so I’d better answer.

Cats are inscrutable, delightful, and frustratingly independent. Their playfulness and acrobatic skill is entrancing.

Do they improve our health? Maybe. There have been studies since the 1980’s showing what we would consider positive health effects, such as lower blood pressure, when we are near cats. More recent research questions the long-term benefits, so a clear answer is probably not available.

But that doesn’t matter to me.

I love cats. Their duality — soft and sharp, cuddly and aloof, sleepy and devilish — appeals to my curiosity.

They are lovely pets, and I feel they help me to raise children with a sense of responsibility and compassion.

There’s nothing like the purr of a cat to make a cool day a little warmer.

I couldn’t imagine my life without these furry little creatures darting about and giving orders when the bottom of the food bowl is visible.

And that’s me and cats.

How about you and cats?