Q: Dear Nora,
I catch my cat drinking out of the toilet a few times a week. He hasn’t gotten sick from it, but it squicks me out to think about. Why does he think toilet water is so delicious, and could he get sick from it?
A: Cats lick their own butts several times every single day. Drinking toilet water is the least of your problems if you’re scared of germs. That being said, if your cat’s love for toilet water is causing you real distress, you can simply get into the habit of putting the toilet lid down when you’re done doing your business.
Your cat is likely attracted to the water in the toilet because it’s cold, fresh, and not stagnant. Are you refreshing his water bowl enough? An easy solution is to invest in a watering fountain. That way your cat will always have access to fresh moving water and won’t be so bummed to see the toilet lid down.
Q: Dear Nora, I recently adopted a new cat and want to give him the best life I can. I’m confused about all of the options for food and water dishes. When it comes to my cat’s dishes and safety, is there really a difference between plastic and stainless steel?
A: First of all, congrats to you and your cat!
When it comes to materials for your cat’s dishes, there is in fact a difference between plastic and stainless steel, and the stainless steel is worth paying a bit more for. Plastic gathers nicks and scratches easily. They may be too small for you to even notice, but those scratches can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Plus, many cats are allergic to plastic and can break out with small bumps on their chins.
Most veterinarians recommend stainless steel bowls because they are easy to clean, unbreakable, and don’t harbor bacteria. Ceramic dishes are also a good choice as long as you make sure they have a lead-free glaze. If the cost hike is prohibitive, you can often find stainless steel bowls at thrift stores for a fraction of the cost.
Q: Dear Nora, What do you think of battery operated interactive toys? My job keeps me out of my home for many hours every day, and I’m searching for ways to keep my cat stimulated while I’m away.
A: Cats are natural hunters and need that instinct to be stimulated somehow. If you don’t have the time to have interactive play sessions with your cats on a regular basis, battery operated toys are a great alternative! My favorite is the Motion-activated Mouse Chase Cat Toy. There is a mouse inside for me to swat at AND it has a scratch pad!
While you’re searching for toys, don’t rule out the ones that aren’t battery operated. I know lots of cats who love the Stimulo Activity Food Center. The Stimulo was technically designed to slow down eating to help cats with weight and digestion problems, but it’s also a puzzle that will keep your cat entertained for hours. The Turbo Scratcher is also great. It’s such a hit at my house that we have TWO! I like to bat the ball around, then pounce on it! Plus the scratch pad in the middle keeps my claws nice and sharp. Sometimes my mom sprinkles catnip into the scratch pad for some extra fun.
Q: Dear Nora,
My girlfriend and I are moving in together and are thinking about adopting a feline at some point. We’d like you to pick the breed for us. The challenge is that she is somewhat allergic to cats, so it needs to be as hypoallergenic as possible. Any ideas?
A: People who are allergic to cats are specifically allergic to a protein in feline saliva, called Fel d 1. Basically, we lick our coats while grooming, the allergen in our saliva dries and becomes airborne, and that is what causes your girlfriend to have a reaction. There are a few factors that affect how much Fel d 1 a cat produces.
:: Female cats produce less than males
:: Neutered males produce less than intact ones
:: Light-colored cats tend to produce less than dark-colored ones
There are several breeds, as well, that produce fewer allergens: Oriental Shorthair, Javanese, Devon Rex, Balinese, Sphynx, Cornish Rex, and Siberian. Thought not completely “hypoallergenic”, these breeds have lived successfully with sensitive people.
As a rescue cat myself, I can’t in good conscience recommend a breed from this list, as you’d generally need to visit a breeder to find one. I hope, instead, that you will take the time to visit shelters and hold out until a allergy-friendly cat comes to you in a more compassionate way.
Q: Dear Nora, One of my cats drinks water by dipping her paw into the bowl and then licking the water from her paw. Why?
A: Your cat may be doing this for one (or more!) of several reasons. First, cats have very sensitive whiskers. If the bowl is too small, or if the water is low and your cat’s whiskers will touch the sides of it if she drinks, she may choose to drink from her paws instead. If you think this is the case, try a shallow bowl with a large circumference.
Next, we always prefer the freshest water, and water seems freshest when it is moving instead of stagnant. Dipping our paws into the water is a way to try to achieve this with the tools we have (dirty water + paws = fresh?). Try a water fountain so your cat won’t have to do all that work.
Q: Dear Nora, My cats have a large water bowl that I always refill when it gets low. Still, I frequently find them sneaking water from the kitchen sink, my own water glass, etc. What gives?
A: There are two things that may be happening. First, the water may not be fresh enough. Our wildcat-ancestor survival instincts are still very much in tact, even though we let you think you’ve domesticated us. If your cats are thirsty and the water smells or tastes bacteria-laden, they may avoid it. Keep in mind that our senses are a lot stronger than yours, so something that seems fine to you may be disgusting to us. Try using smaller bowls, which will force you to refresh the water more often. Also, give the bowls a good washing at least once a week.
Secondly, in a multi-cat household, weaker cats may seek out alternative water sources if a bully-cat is watching over the bowl. To solve this problem, put water (and food) bowls in several locations throughout your home, so there is always a safe and accessible alternative.
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.
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!
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.
Q: 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.
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.