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How Do I Keep My Dog Out of the Litter Box?

Veto (cat) & Cuddles (dog)
Veto (cat) & Cuddles (dog)

Q: Dear Nora,
Thanks for your advice about avoiding covered litter boxes. I’d like to provide an uncovered box for my cat, but my dog loves to snack on cat poo. Any ideas? 

A: Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s even more important to have uncovered boxes if your kitty is co-habitating with other animals. Not being able to escape the litter box is a legit concern if she sees the pup sniffing around. And, trust me, your cat eventually will find other (safer) places to do her business– maybe in the middle of the kitchen floor or in your new boots.

Instead, put the litter box in a room that doesn’t need to be accessible to the dog (laundry room, spare bedroom, bathroom, whatever) and install a hinged baby gate in the doorway. If your dog is big, you can install the gate 6 or so inches from the ground so your cat will easily be able to slip underneath. If not, install the gate closer to the ground and put something (a box, stool, piece of furniture) on each side, so your kitty can easily jump over the gate. The hinge will allow you to get into the room easily to clean the box daily, or you may be able to just step over the gate.

Natural Flea Remedies?


Q: Dear Nora,
Is there something non-toxic and more natural than prescription treatments that I can use to rid my home and cat of fleas? 

A: Fleas are the worst. When I was rescued by my friend Mike last summer, before I found my forever home, I was covered in an unbelievable amount of fleas. They were always biting me and driving me crazy. Kudos to you for caring about keeping your kitty flea-less in a non-toxic way.

For a natural remedy, try apple cider vinegar. Spray diluted (50/50 with water) onto your floors and carpets. You can also rub this mixture into her coat. Fleas hate the sour taste of vinegar and will avoid it. To catch jumpers, you can also mix dish detergent into water and leave bowls of it around your home. The fleas will be attracted to the sweet smell of the detergent, jump in, and won’t be able to get out.

When using natural remedies that deter fleas without killing them, you must vacuum every day (several times per day if possible!) to suck up fleas and eggs. Empty the vacuum bag often, too, so the fleas don’t hop out!

How Do I Give My Cat Space From My Rough Toddler?

Today’s column is brought to you by Gaea Stephens, an expert in the art of living with a toddler. Gaea is an (almost) 14 year old cat who lives in the Southern VT/NH area. She lives with her human parents, their 2 1/2 year old daughter and an enormous dog. She spends her days sleeping, eating, loving and plotting.

gaeaQ: Dear Gaea,
My toddler tends to play rough with our cat– tugging her tail, squeezing her, etc. The cat takes it like a champ, but I want to make sure she’s as happy as she can be. What can I do to ensure that my cat has ample space from my terrorizing toddler?

A: Sounds like you have a pretty great kitty and a toddler brimming with love for her. Just like kittens, human children show their love through rough play. What seems mean to a human adult can be seen as a sign of love for a toddler. And sometimes, love hurts!

Make sure that your feline friend has plenty of places to take respite from the rambunctious toddler. In my house my human parents allow me to hide in their room if I need some space. They have also provided vertical real estate for me– perches high enough that the tot can’t reach but I can still feel like part of the family.

Trust me when I tell you that your kitty will openly express her disdain if the kiddo takes things too far. I usually give a quick claw-free tap or a loud vocalization as a warning. I also show other signs such as flattening my ears and ceasing all purring. I have even been known to fluff up my tail and hiss a little when she gets really crazy. That is when the humans step in and remind their little one to be gentle with me. More often than not though, I really enjoy my little person’s company and affection. 

What’s the Deal with Litter Boxes and Pregnant Ladies?

Eyeball helping with the dishes
Eyeball helping with the dishes

Q: Dear Nora,
I’ve heard that pregnant women shouldn’t clean litter boxes. If there is something in cat litter that is bad for pregnant women, couldn’t it be bad for everyone? Help! We want healthy cat litter for the whole family! 

A: It’s not the litter that is the problem, it’s what you are scooping out of the litter. Cats (particularly those who go outside or eat raw meat– including mice caught inside) can carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite lives in our poop, and can be transmitted to you when you scoop the box.

In a healthy and non-pregnant person, toxoplasmosis (though sometimes more serious) normally only causes cold or flu-like symptoms. In a pregnant woman, however, the parasite can transmit to the fetus and cause a more serious reaction– even a miscarriage.

It’s great if you have someone else who can scoop the box while you’re pregnant. If that’s not possible, you can wear gloves while scooping. Always wash your hands well afterwards, and never put your grimy hands to your mouth before you wash them. As for your cats, you can greatly minimize their chances of spreading this parasite by keeping them indoors and feeding them a diet of canned or commercial dried cat food (never raw or undercooked meat).