From Litter trays to cat carriers there is a plethora of products available to suit the discerning eye of every cat owner. But is it us owners that the makers of these products should be trying to satisfy?! What we like to buy for our cats is usually based on our own human perceptions of their behaviour, as well as our own tastes! As you know, you can buy a deluxe furry cat bed in a beautiful and very tasteful print, only for your cat to choose the box it came in.
What this guide aims to do is to give you some buying tips based on your cat’s species specific behaviour. This will hopefully make the product more attractive than the box – though this can never be guaranteed!
Cat Litter Trays
From hooded trays to corner trays to self-cleaning trays - the choice of litter tray available today is enormous and can be confusing! However, it's important to get this right because the key to preventing and resolving house-soiling behaviours usually lies with the toilet facilities. The type of litter tray; the number of trays, their size and location all need to be right to entice your cat to use them.
I would personally avoid all the fancy self-cleaning trays. It’s not a pleasant job, but the only way to keep the tray pristine is to do it yourself. Instead I would opt for a standard litter tray, the biggest you can buy for the space you have chosen. Hooded trays can be a good option for single cat households where the tray is in an obtrusive position such as a bedroom, kitchen or living room. If you do choose a hooded tray, it’s always a good idea to remove the door so that your cat can poke his head out and see what’s going on whilst doing his business. However, for multi-cat households I would always recommend an open tray. I’ve seen lots of cases where cats that don’t get on with their feline housemates sit in wait behind or even on top of the tray, ready to ambush the poor unsuspecting cat inside. An open tray gives the litter tray-user a 360 degree view from which to look out for potential threats.
Do remember to buy enough trays for the number of cats you have. The ideal is one per cat plus one in different locations.
Did You Know... When it comes to litter trays big is beautiful! In fact, a litter tray should ideally be 1.5 times the length of your cat from the tip of its nose to the base of its tail. I usually recommend those described as ‘jumbo’ to my clients!
There are many types available, but which is the best? Most of the homes I’ve visited have litter trays containing Catsan White or a wood-based litter. Unfortunately, in both cases urine deposits spread over the surface of the litter making it impossible to remove, nor are they particularly comfortable on the cats sensitive paw pads.
Being desert dwellers, the ancestors of our domestic cat the African Wild Cat toileted in sand, which is why our cats today instinctively gravitate towards a sand-like material for their toileting, as anyone with a sandpit in their garden will know! If it were up to them, cats would choose a fine sand-like litter which they can easily dig and rake. I would also advise a non-scented litter. Those with fragrances might smell baby-talc-fresh to us but can be too strong for our cat’s noses!
Most supermarkets now sell a range that include fine, clumping litters. These usually include ‘ultra’ in the name. Clumping litters are great because the clumps make removal of all urine particles much easier, Another reason why I advocate clumping cat litters is because they allow you to keep an eye on your cat’s urine output. If your cat usually passes urine twice a day which forms one or two medium sized clumps in the litter and suddenly you notice lots of tiny clumps, this is a sign that all is not well with your cat’s urinary tract and a visit to the vet may be needed. For cats that produce normal amounts of urine several times daily, you need only fill the tray with litter to a depth of 3-4cm. If you have more than one cat or your cat urinates in larger volumes, you may need to add a further 1-2cms.
My current cat litter recommendation is Almo Nature Cat Litter. It’s one of the more expensive litters, but it’s extremely soft, clumps and can be flushed down the toilet.
Did You Know... That if a cat gets his claws caught in a litter liner, this can put him off using it. For this reason, I recommend steering clear of these!
Cat Litter Scoops and Mats
Servicing our cats' litter trays regularly is important for two reasons, cat's don't like toileting in a used tray, and we don't like the lingering smells that a tray filled with cat urine and faeces produces! In the above paragraph I discussed the use of fine, sand-like litters. If you use these, you will need a cat litter scoop with small holes that can collect up even the tiniest of urine clumps. The smaller the ‘holes’ the better! You might also find that some litters might more easily strewn outside the tray when the more vigorous diggers of our feline household use them, so you could try using a mat especially
designed to prevent the spread of the litter.
Urine Stain and Odour Remover
One of the most common behaviours that I get asked about is cats urinating on carpets, sofas, duvets, piles of clean washing. If you are experiencing this problem with your cat it would be wise to seek the advice of a Cat Behaviourist, but in the meantime, you might need something to clean it up with! There are a variety of urine stain and odour removal products on the market, but in my experience Urine-Off is one of the most effective. Remember though that any product of this type can only be reliably effective if used on freshly deposited urine - so it might be wise to keep some in your cupboard just in case! Or you can use the following home-made version:
Make up a solution consisting of 1-part biological washing powder with 10 parts water
Lightly rub the soiled area with the solution using a clean cloth
Put some fresh water in a clean atomiser bottle (such as a plastic bottle for spraying plants) and spray the area
Pat the area dry with some kitchen towel
Put a small amount of surgical spirit in a separate clean atomiser bottle and lightly spray the area
Let it dry before allowing the cat back into the room
Cat Bowls, Slow Feeders and Automatic Feeders
When it comes to the type of bowl we offer cat food in we might go for something that's stylish or something that's more practical. However, there are other criteria that we might want to consider.
Firstly, some of the plastic bowls give-off a smell that can put some cats off, so where possible, using a single ceramic bowl would be preferable. I would almost always avoid the double-bowl feeders as it can be incredibly stressful for cats to eat side by side. If you use these for dry and wet food, a better option would be to have separate dry and wet food feeding stations. Or if you use one bowl for water and the other for food, again I would recommend separate stations for water and food.
An automatic cat feeder might be a good option for the odd mealtime when you're going to be out or where you want to schedule multiple small meals throughout the day, and microchip feeders are now available for multi-cat households where one cat eats faster, then steals the food of the other cats.
If your cat is elderly, it might be uncomfortable for him to lower his head to the floor, in which case a raised bowl would be ideal. Tip: Remember to have enough feeding stations for the number of cats in your home and feed the cats out of sight of each other! Placing your cat's food bowl away from a wall will give them the opportunity to conduct a 360 degree surveillance whilst eating or you could try putting it on a raised surface.
Cat Puzzle Feeders
Where's the fun in having your cat food sitting in a cat bowl when you could forage for your food?! Giving cats their food in an interactive feeder is gaining in popularity. Not only do they provide an extra bit of stimulation, particularly for indoor cats, but they also reduce the speed at which cats can eat as well as playing a role in a dietary management programme for overweight cats. When I first entered the world of cat behaviour it was a case of coming up with a home-made creation as there were very few on the market. However, things have changed and there's a plethora of interactive feeders now available. Some are suitable for treats only, but others can be used for dry food, treats and even wet food. There are lots of examples at www.foodpuzzlesforcats.com Tip: Visit my video blog post Making the World a Better Place for Cats. Part 3: Puzzle Feeding to find out more about puzzle feeding and how it can enrich our cat’s lives!
Cat Water Bowls and Fountains
Do you put a glass of water on the table only to turn around and find your cat drinking from it, despite having his own water bowl?! Or you might have a cat that prefers drinking from a dripping tap. Encouraging cats to drink water is particularly important especially for those cats who are fed an exclusively dry diet and taking their preferences into account in terms of drinking receptacles can help. Cats love running water, so rather than allowing your tap to drip why not treat them to a water fountain? As with cat food bowls, ceramic drinking bowls are preferable to plastic and the wider the rim the better, as they don't like getting their whiskers wet. Let's not forget our senior citizens of the feline world who might be more comfortable drinking from an elevated bowl. Tip: Cats don't associate drinking with food in the same way as we humans do and are more likely to drink from their water bowl if it's placed well away from their food.
Play is an important and instinctive activity for our cats. It provides stimulation, reduces stress, raises their mood, hones their hunting skills and helps with weight management. For elderly cats gentle and regular play over short periods can also help to reduce the decline in cognitive function and give them a better quality of life. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is.
So, when it comes to cat toys what should we chose? Well, there's no easy answer as each cat usually has his own preference - some like jumping up at dangly feathers others prefer chasing balls, whilst others like the smelly toys containing catnip, valerian, silver vine or honeysuckle. This means that buying our cat a brand-new toy (which let's face it, we're usually more excited about than our cat!) can be a lottery. Even when you've found some toys that your cat likes playing with, he might discard them after only one or two play sessions.
I like to break play down into two types. Interactive play which involves daily play sessions with you, and solo play, which as the name suggests, is something the cat does on his own. For interactive play anything that gets your cat running, jumping and chasing is great. I find the fishing rod-type toys with interchangeable heads such as Da Bird or Flying Frenzy are great. Laser pointers are also quite good, but if you are going to use one, make sure you periodically throw something for your cat to physically cat, otherwise it can be a very frustrating game for him!
For solo play your cat might like some extra strength catnip products like the Yeowww catnip bananas, cigars or rainbows. Valerian and sliver vine make great alternatives, especially the valerian Plague Rat. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t recommend my own honeysuckle toys! If your cat isn’t a fan of catnip (as is the case with 1 in 3 cats) or if you want to offer your cat the opportunity to try a new scent, a slice of natural honeysuckle wood or one of the soft toys containing honeysuckle is likely to enhance your cat’s toy collection.
For cats that have a high play drive or spend a lot of time on their own, you might want to treat them to a motion activated toy, there are plenty to choose from!
As far as your cat is concerned, a toys represents prey and once he’s killed it, it’s literally dead to him. Not only that but cats have a short span of attention. Both of these facts mean that toys can have very short shelf-lives. If you want to avoid this you can keep the toys novel by placing them in a sealed plastic bag containing a mixture of catnip and valerian leaves (if your cat shows a preference for these) and rotating them daily.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, nothing can beat a cardboard box, especially if it contain a treat, toy or pinch of catnip!
Cat Scratching Posts
Cat scratching posts can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are tall ones, small ones for kittens, ones with lots of platforms as well as horizontal scratchers which may be favoured by elderly cats or those that can't climb. They also go by different names such as cat tree, cat activity centre, cat climbing frame, cat tower etc! They are a particularly important piece of cat furniture as they allow our cats to perform a number of important functions. Cats will not only use the sisal posts for the removal of claw husks, but also as a means of depositing their scent via the glands on their paw pads. The tall, modular cat scratching activity trees allow them to climb up high which gives them that all-important sense of security and if they have an enclosed or part-enclosed 'cave' this caters for cats that prefer to hide away.
The type of post you buy quite often depends on the amount of room you have in your home. For those homes that can accommodate them, the tall multi-level activity centres fulfil a cat’s need to scratch as well as his requirement for height. Some tall scratchers can ‘wobble’ which is off-putting for cats. Try to find one that is nice and stable or attach it to a wall using an ‘L’ bracket.
Where less room is available I usually recommend a barrel scratcher which is a medium height scratcher that is wide enough to allows your cat to rest on top of it.
Horizontal scratchers made from cardboard are great for cats that aren’t fans of a vertical scratch. They are usually double-sided and inexpensive.
Whichever type you choose, make sure you have enough scratchers distributed around the house to cater for every cat.
Ideally scratching posts should be located in front of a full length glass patio doors or windows to enable your cat to look out from a safe height.
To allow your cat to scratch at full stretch remember that as he grows so should his scratching post!
Hammock, igloo, heated, padded, wicker - these are just some of the types of beds that are especially designed for our cats' comfort, though sometimes we find an old
towel or piece of clothing that smells of us will serve them just as well! As with toys, there's no rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a bed for your cat and they'll tend to let you know what they like. However, when it comes to beds there are two things that are important to cats, and these are heat and location.
Generally, cats like their beds to be in discreet places and elevated to give them a sense of security, although you might find that it doesn't matter where in your house the bed is located if it's close to a heat source! This is why heat pads; radiator hammocks and electric or heated cat beds can be such a great tool to entice your cat to sleep where you'd like them to! The heated options are also a great choice for elderly cats who tend to have less fat on them and therefore feel the cold more. The heat will also help ease the pain from any painful joints they may have. For years I have been recommending the Pet Remedy Heated Pet Pad. This is a fantastic piece of enrichment for your cat. It’s an electric pad that is low voltage so doesn’t use much electricity. It can be placed anywhere in your home and covered with a familiar piece of bedding or a nice fleecy vet bed. It’s worth shopping around for this as prices can vary. Did You Know ... Pet cats spend an average of 16 hours a day sleeping!
A blessing or a curse? A cat flap can be both. On the one hand it means that our cats have the freedom to access the great outdoors without us having to act as doormen and women but on the other they represent a possible means of entry for other cats and therefore place our cats in a vulnerable position - after all, even if the cat flap is microchip operated, our cats don't know that! However, if you are thinking of installing one there's more choice now than ever before and they're becoming more sophisticated. Whichever model you go for, I would absolutely advise a microchip operated cat flap. There’s even an option available called the Sureflap Connect which allows you to remotely operate the flap via an app on your phone! Tip: If your cat is reluctant to use the cat flap try placing some cat-safe potted plants in front of the cat flap to provide him with some camouflage when he exits.
Cat Grooming Brushes and Combs
When it comes to maintenance grooming most cats are fastidious, but the majority still need a regular groom from us especially during the moulting season. Those who own short hair cats might wonder what all the fuss is about, but those of us with longhair lovelies might feel like we spend our lives getting stubborn knots out of their furry locks!! When you buy a tool it's best to choose wisely and get a brush or comb that's appropriate for your cat's size and length of fur. Of course your cat might also have his or her own preference, so it might be a case of trying out a number of different grooming tools. Don't forget, grooming elderly cats is also important because quite often they're unable to reach the parts that younger cats can! Gentle grooming also provides them with some well-deserved 'cat-owner' quality time. Did you know ... Regular grooming not only removes a cat's loose hairs and dead skin cells but also helps keep the coat free of dirt, debris and distributes natural skin oils along the hair shafts.
Whether it's a dreaded visit to the vet, a stay at a cattery or even a house move, we all need to take our cats out of their environment every now and then. As a territorial species, this can be incredibly stressful for them so the easier we can make it for them the better. An appropriate cat carrier is a must. They can be quite expensive but a good one should last for many years. Carriers that can be easily cleaned and have a top section which can be completely removed are a good idea as it allows a cat to remain in situ in the bottom half of a carrier during veterinary examinations which can be helpful for nervous cats. Choosing a plastic carrier means it can be easily cleaned if there are any 'accidents' on the journey. Tip: Use Pet Remedy or Feliway spray inside the cat carrier approximately 30 minutes before putting a cat inside. One spray in each corner and two sprays on the floor and ceiling may help to give your cat some well needed reassurance when travelling. A blanket over the carrier may also serve to give him some privacy and a perception of safety.
Cat Safety Collars
Collars can provide a certain degree of reassurance for owners when it comes to offering a means of contacting them if he goes missing, but there's a downside. Some collars such as the buckle-type can easily get caught on branches and other objects outdoors which can lead the cat to getting his foreleg stuck in the gap between the collar and his neck in an effort to remove it. This can cause appalling injuries. If you are thinking about putting a collar on your cat, please make sure it's one that has a safety catch. Even if your cat does have a collar, it's also important to ensure your cat is microchipped. Tip: Remember to keep your cat's microchip details up to date by notifying the microchip company of any change of address.
Providing our cats with height and shelter in the garden in the form of a cat house and climbing frame can be a great way to enrich their alfresco experience. Although outdoor cat climbing frames don't yet appear to be mass produced, there are now a number of small businesses that are making them such as Cat Climbing Towers. They have some lovely designs on their web site or will custom-make one to your specification. Tip: If you're going to buy a cat kennel try and ensure it has separate entry and exit points (or a door that can be fitted with a microchip cat flap) to avoid your cat being cornered inside by a neighbouring or cat, or even a cat from the same household.
The cat is an obligate carnivore and having meat in their diet is essential. So why is it that we see cats eating grass? It is thought that some cats do this as a means of helping them pass fur through their digestive tracts more easily so that they can regurgitate it in the form of hairballs. But what happens for cats that don't have access to grass outside? We can now grow our own grass especially for cats to use either indoors or outdoors that comes as pre-packaged seeds in a container. Offering this type of immature grass to a cat, particularly indoor cats, not only help with hairballs, but can give them an extra bit of environmental enrichment and may also distract them from eating other, potentially hazardous and toxic indoor houseplants such as lilies, amaryllis and chrysanthemums. For a list of house plants that are potentially toxic to cats follow this link to the International Cat Care web site. Did You Know... It is believed that cats regurgitate when they eat grass because they lack the necessary enzymes to break down vegetable matter. This is why they can never be vegetarians!
Pale cats are just as prone to sunburn and their associated diseases as we are. It's therefore vitally important that we remember to protect them when they go out in the sun. I've spent years looking for a sunscreen that has been created specifically for pets and at last I've found one. It’s called Filtaclear and has a proven track record in Australia. Tip: For those cats who will insist on going out in soaring temperatures, providing them with a shaded area will allow them to enjoy the sights and sounds that they love in a safe way.
Frosted Window Film
You might be wondering what this has got to do with cats and is certainly something you might never have thought you needed! This type of product can be a great way of reducing a cat's stress by shielding them from the sight of another cat through one of the full-length glass patio doors that are so popular now. Not only can the sight of a neighbouring cat sticking two paws up at your cat through the window be stressful, in some situations it can lead to a cat redirecting his adrenaline-fuelled aggression onto whoever happens to enter the room at that moment, be it another cat that lives in the house or his owners! The film is static which means it doesn't use any adhesive to stick to the window and therefore can be peeled off without leaving any residue. It comes in a huge variety of patterns and can be very attractive! Applying it to a height of about 3 feet from floor level should do the job.
In multi-cat households, it’s also a good idea to use it on internal full-length glass doors.