Q: Dear Nora, My indoor cat often interacts with cats outside the window. The interactions range from vocal (meowing, yowling) to physical (headbutting, swatting). Are these outdoor cats a danger to my indoor cat? Should I be worried about diseases?
A: As long as the screen barrier stays intact, you shouldn’t worry much about diseases. Even FeLV, which is highly contagious, is unlikely to be transmitted through the screen. That being said, it’s not uncommon for cats to tear screens or push them out, especially when we feel threatened. Invest in some adjustable window screens to add an extra layer between your cat and the outside world.
More than diseases, you should worry about the stress that these outdoor cats may be causing. Stress can be bad for your cat’s health, but it can also cause your cat to mark its territory by spraying around your home. I don’t mind seeing cats outside my window, but my sister Pippi just about loses her mind when she sees a stray. She never sprays (our mom is endlessly thankful for this), but she hisses and spits and is noticeably stressed.
If you want to keep cats out of your yard and away from your windows, you simply have to remember that cats hate water. Rig up some motion-activated sprinklers and you are good to go.
‘Summertime’ means vacations and weekend getaways to many people. Unfortunately, most cats don’t appreciate the newness and unpredictability of travel and would much rather stay home where things are more mundane. Here’s a great article about the information you should relay to your cat sitter to ensure a safe and healthy stay-cation for your cat while you are away.
Q: Dear Nora, I keep finding my cat munching on my houseplants. I make sure not to bring poisonous ones into my home, but it’s still aggravating. Why does she love eating my plants so much? And how can I make her stop?
A: It’s great that you’re careful to not bring plants into your home that may be toxic to your cat. Other readers who aren’t already so conscious can find a list of common toxic plants on our Resources page.
It’s very common for cats to eat plants and there are a few reasons she may be doing this.
Cats like things that dangle and flutter in the wind. If you have viney plants or plants that wiggle when the wind blows through the window, the plant may simply be poking at your cat’s natural instinct to hunt.
If you cause a big fuss every time you catch your cat nibbling, she may have learned that this is a great way to get your attention.
Eating plants can help with digestion, cause vomiting, and even act as a laxative. Eating your plants may be your cat’s way of trying to solve belly discomfort.
My first suggestion would be to make your plants inaccessible to you cat. Put them up on high shelves that she can’t access by jumping, hang dangling plants from the ceiling, or put them in a room she doesn’t have access to. Second, add a pot or two of cat grass to your home so she has a more appropriate way to fill her need to chomp on greens. You can buy pre-grown grasses or start them yourself from seed. You may even be able to find locally grown cat grass at your local health food store or farmer’s market. If you have a Bergan Turbo Scratcher (my favorite), you can even get an insert that will grow grass in the middle of it! Make sure to place the grass in areas that are easy for her to reach and close to parts of your home where she already spends a lot of time (for instance, near her favorite perch).
Q: Dear Nora, I want to liven up my home, so I have been thinking about getting a kitten. The thing is that I work a lot and my schedule is unpredictable. But kittens are so cute and I really want one! What do you think?
A: You’re right. Kittens are cute. You know what else kittens are? Little, wild, mischievous, needy, balls of energy that need near-constant attention. My mom worked from home when I was a kitten and even then I was barely tameable. Kittens are fun, and they can be sweet (Sometimes. After they are done being monsters), but it’s not fair to the kitten if you don’t have a lot of time to play and nurture. Instead, consider adopting a cat who is over a year old. She won’t require as much attention and will still be excited about playtime and snuggles when you’re home from work. Plus, older cats have a harder time getting adopted from shelters, so you’d really be saving a life. Contact your local shelter, meet a few, and see who you click with.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat sleeps a lot. Sometimes it seems like he sleeps almost all day. Is this normal? I’m worried that he’s depressed.
A: Day-long catnaps aren’t necessarily a sign of depression. On average, a healthy cat can sleep between 15-20 hours per day! Despite being domesticated, cats are still wild at heart and are hard-wired to sleep during the day and hunt at night. Your sleepy cat may very well be up chasing and pouncing at night while you are sound asleep. Try interesting him in some daytime hunting and playing with a wand toy or laser pointer.
Excessive sleeping may signal depression, though, if this is new behavior. Be on the lookout for lethargy, a change in personality or grooming habits, hiding, or aggression. Try this checklist from CatChannel.com to help you determine if your cat may be depressed. If you suspect depression or your cat’s behavior has changed, see your vet for options.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat is always climbing on things. He jumps onto the counters, my dresser, the tops of cabinets, bookcases, and even the refrigerator. I don’t like when he gets up onto places where he isn’t supposed to be (especially in the kitchen with his litter-paws), but he only purs when I call him “Bad Kitty”. Why is he so insistent on being naughty and how can I get him to stop?
A: We like to be up high. It’s just a fact. From the beginning of cat-time, we’ve climbed trees, buildings, and refrigerators. It’s how we keep an eye on our surroundings, hunt our prey, and keep from becoming prey for other sneaky creatures.
You won’t be able to easily stop us from climbing to the highest perch in the room. However, you can provide more cat-appropriate vertical space to lure him away from the cabinets. There are lots of options out there, in many styles and price points. I have a tall, multi-tier tree in my house. It’s great because there is plenty of room for both my sister and I to be up high. Plus the base doubles as a scratcher to keep my claws nice and healthy. If you don’t like the look of a carpet-lined cat tree, there’s this fancy wooden version. There are also window perches and wall-mounted cat shelves.
In my house, we really like it when the cat tree is near a window so we can watch the birds and insects fly around. Most cats like this best, but you can try your tree in a couple locations to see what your cat prefers. Sprinkle some catnip onto the new tree or perch and give him some treats when he uses it. That’ll help him associate the tree with good times and ensure that he’ll keep using it.
Q: Dear Nora, My 2-year old cat is generally great about using the litter box. We never have any problems except for when we go away for more than two nights. Although we have someone check on him and feed him while we are gone, he has always pooped on our bed when we return. We have three litter boxes in the house and this never happens when we are home. I’m sure he’s just upset with us, but how to I get him to stop?
A: The problem isn’t that your cat is upset with you. Cats don’t think like that. Your cat is likely either just stressed because you are gone and he doesn’t understand why you aren’t there, or there is something missing from his routine while you’re away (attention, playtime, etc.) and he’s making a statement about feeling neglected.
To deal with stress, I am a big fan of the Feliway plug-in (it comes in a spray version too. But the plug-in would be best if you’re out of town for a few days). Feliway mimics the pheromones that cats create when they are happy and content. It helps cats stay calm and comfortable even when their environments change.
I see that you have people check on him and feed him while you’re gone, but how long are they sticking around? Is he getting proper attention? Cuddles? Play time? Consider hiring an actual professional pet sitter who will be sure to give him the proper amount of time and affection while you’re away.
Q: Dear Nora, Why does my cat like to knock everything off of high surfaces? It’s driving me bonkers! What can I do, short of installing trampoline floors.
A: Sounds like your cat is bored. We’re playful and curious creatures, and if we don’t have enough appropriate things in our environments to stimulate us we’ll surely resort to inappropriate things. Does your cat have enough toys around? Does he actually play with them? If there aren’t enough toys around that actually get a lot of use you may want to just try a few more kinds. There are so many different kinds out there—balls, squeaking toys, wands, battery operated ones—there’s bound to be something to direct his attention away from knocking everything over. You can also try some food puzzles to keep him stimulated.
But if you do end up installing trampoline floors, be sure to invite me over. That sounds fun!
Q: Dear Nora, Over the past year, my cat has become a bit more grumpy than usual. She spends about 90% of her day in bed sleeping on my pillow on my side of the bed. She begrudgingly moves at night so I can get into bed, only to return later to insist on sharing the pillow with me. The struggle to share the bed can be annoying but the part that gets real bad is her insistence to put her butt directly in my face. Not just pointed in my direction, but RIGHT IN MY FACE. Does she just hate me?
A: Actually, given the information I have, I’d say your cat loves you quite a lot.
First off all, she is choosing your pillow because she likes the smell of you. You represent comfort and security to her.
As for the butt thing, I know it’s hard to understand how a butt in your face can equal love. But cat language is often subtle, and therefore misunderstood. Cats have glands on several parts of their body—their cheeks, their paws, and yes, even near their butts at the base of the tail. They use these glands to mark things that are safe and comfortable. In this case, you. When your cat does this, she’s basically saying you are part of her colony.
Try putting your old stinky pillowcase on another pillow and placing it next to the pillow you want to sleep on at night. You may be able to at least convince her to scoot over a but to make sleeping more comfortable.
My cats have started sleeping in the potted plants on my balcony, despite having many comfy spots to sleep elsewhere. How can I get them to stop crushing my lovely balcony plants?
A: The best way to get cats to do anything is to figure out what’s so desirable to them about whatever they are doing, then offer them something even more desirable. In this case, I suspect there are three things that are desirable to your cats about the plants:
They are outside in the fresh air, where all the birds and insects and squirrels are.
They are outside in the sunshine. We all know that’s the best place to take a nap.
We love dirt and plants– napping in them, gnawing on them, whatever.
Given these assumptions, I’d suggest two things. First, try creating a few potted plants just for them. These should include soil, sunshine, and air. Try planting something like catgrass in the pot instead of something that will get crushed. Place these pots beside your crushed ones, so your cat is able to see clearly why the new pot is a better option. Second, make your other plants less desirable by topping the soil with a layer of rocks. Water will still drain into them, but it won’t be as cozy to your cats.
I’m not a veterinarian (obviously. Cats aren’t allowed into veterinarian school). The information you’ll find here is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes. Dear Nora is not intended to diagnose and we encourage regular visits with your local veterinarian to address any medical or behavioral problems.