Q: Dear Nora, My cat ‘s water bowl rarely needs re-filling and I’m concerned that she’s not drinking enough water. How can I get her to drink more?
A: Is your cat’s only water bowl near her food dish? Cuz that’s gross. Us cats think of our food (even if you buy it for us from the store, and even if it’s dry and super processed) as being our prey. As prey, our instincts tell us that our water may be contaminated with bacteria if it’s close to our food, so we will often avoid it.
We’ll seek out fresh water elsewhere– that’s why you may see your cat lapping up water from the faucet, or dipping her paw into your own glass of fresh and cool water (in fact, that’s my favorite place to drink from!).
You can encourage your cat to drink more water by providing more water bowls or cat water fountains throughout your home– located in many spots far from her food bowl. Clean the bowls and add fresh water daily for maximum water consumption.
Q: Dear Nora, My cats go crazy over yarn. They love to play with it and get all wrapped up in it. Is it okay to let them play with it? I’m worried they’ll ingest it.
A: I love playing with yarn. I love everything about it. I especially love ripping my mom’s knitting projects to shreds when she forgets to put them away.
Despite the fun, playing with yarn can actually be dangerous. It’s impossible for us to keep dangling and squirming things out of our mouths, you see. Before we know it, we’re swallowing it and it’s getting wrapped all around our insides and you are rushing us to the (very expensive, my mama tells me) emergency vet.
Luckily there are alternatives, such as wand toys. My mama spends some time every day playing with me with a wand toy and it’s great! I hunt it and play with it and get (safely) wrapped up in it– and as long as I am playing with my mama, she makes sure I don’t swallow anything bad, like the feathers on the end. So, hide the yarn, add more toys, and your cat will never know the difference.
Q: Dear Nora, We live on a busy street now and don’t feel comfortable letting our formerly-indoor/outdoor kitty outside here. She seems bored inside. What can we do to keep her stimulated indoors?
A: I used to be outside too, before I was rescued. I like being indoors because it’s safer and my food bowl is always full– but when I first came inside I did miss chasing birds, climbing trees, and eating mice. There are a lot of things you can do to make a stimulating indoor environment for your cat. Here are a few ideas:
Food puzzles. Food puzzles are a great way to stimulate your cat– just think of all the scheming and problem-solving that will go into retrieving the food!
Bird feeders. Just because your kitty lives indoors now doesn’t mean she can’t still be stimulated by the outdoors. Set up a bird feeder outside her favorite window to perch in (perhaps with a cat tree nearby). She’ll love watching the birds and other critters.
Cat TV. If you aren’t able to have a bird feeder, or for something extra, consider Cat TV. My personal favorite is the bird channel, but my sister Pippi really likes the fish.
Q: Dear Nora, Traveling with my cat is a nightmare. Even just quick trips to the vet cause her an amazing amount of stress. What can I do to make being in the carrier a less stressful experience for her?
A: I can understand your cat’s stress. We are naturally anxious creatures, so it’s scary for us to be shoved into small crates and carted off to unknown destinations with no chance of escape or defense. That being said, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the stress of putting her in a carrier.
First, make sure the carrier you are using is appropriately sized for your cat. Bigger cats require bigger carriers, and if your cat is large, she may feel anxious being shoved into a box that is too small for her to move around in.
Next, make the carrier comfortable and familiar. Start by lining the bottom of the carrier with something that smells like you and home– a used pillowcase form your bed, a dirty towel, your favorite hoodie, whatever. The more it smells like you, the more comforting it will be to her. Beware, though, that she may pee or puke on whatever you put in the carrier, so make it something that is easily washable. Invest in a spray bottle of Feliway. Feliway mimics the pheromones cats exude when they are happy, and will help send comforting and vibes to her. Spritz the carrier a few minutes before Go Time. Bach Pet Rescue Remedy also helps by using a combination of safe and effective herbs to sooth cats. Just add a few drops to her water bowl the night before travel. Make sure to only use the non-alcohol pet version, as the alcohol in the human version can be dangerous for kitties.
Lastly, keep the carrier in plain sight even when you won’t be using it. My mom keeps my carrier tucked under a table. Sometimes I even nap and play in it, so it always smells like me. Being able to see it, smells it, and explore it all the time makes it less scary when it’s time to get inside.
Q: Dear Nora, I live in an apartment with one small kitty. I love everything about her…except the litter box. I have a hard time remembering or finding the motivation to scoop it every day. Is it really necessary? Or can I get away with just scooping it a couple times a week?
A: Did you know that your cat’s sense of smell is FORTY times stronger than yours?! It’s true. You have about 5 million smell receptors in your nose, but your cat has 200 million. So if you think the box is stinky, imagine that smell being 40 times stronger. Not pleasant, right? Imagine how you’d feel if your toilet only got flushed a couple times a week. And if you had to stand in it each time you peed. So in short, yes, you do need to scoop every day.
Here are some ideas for making it easier to remember and do regularly:
Place the box in a visible place. Seeing it regularly will remind you to scoop. And if you’re scooping every day it won’t be a smelly thing to have around.
Keep a Litter Genie by the box so it’s quick and easy to dispose of the clumps you scoop out.
Make scooping a part of your daily routine by tacking it onto something you do every day anyway. For instance, do it every night after you brush your teeth or every morning before breakfast.
Q: Dear Nora, My dear cat is suddenly pooping outside of her litter box. Nothing is new about the box. It’s in the same location, we’ve been keeping it the same amount of clean, etc. What’s up?
A: Cats are finicky creatures and we can start pooping on the floor at ay time for a variety of reasons. We’re also very tuned into the smallest changes that you may not even notice yourself. Pooping outside the box is always a sign that something’s wrong and some of the potential problems are medical, so get your cat checked out by a veterinarian right away (and don’t forget to bring a stool sample). Here are some non-medical reasons this may be happening:
If you have multiple cats, other animals, or small children, your cat may be feeling threatened. Cats are always in competition, whether subtle or obvious, and your cat may be scared to enter the litter box in case she gets ambushed by another. If you have multiple cats, make sure there are enough litter boxes. The general rule is one box per cat plus one more. Make sure you place them in various places around the house so each of your cats always feels safe.
Where is your litter box placed? Is it in a dark area like a basement or closet? Perhaps as your cat gets older she’s having a hard time seeing the box well. Try adding a night light to the room.
You say nothing has changed about your box, so these next few may not apply to you. But there are some other reasons a cat may be pooping outside of the box that I wanted to cover for my other readers:
Your cat may not like the type of litter in the box, whether it’s the scent, the way it feels on her feet, or another reason. Try a new brand or type.
Some cats simply don’t like pooping in the same place they pee. You can try adding another litter box to your household. Place it in a different area of your home.
Are you keeping it clean enough? Cats have very strong senses of smell (40x stronger than yours!) If you aren’t cleaning the box at least once per day, she may be boycotting the filth.
Q: Dear Nora, My cat, Fiona, has lived inside for her entire life. She has never had to hunt for her food. Still, she stalks and “hunts” at any opportunity. Why does she do this if she knows I’ll dependably feed her twice a day?
A: Unlike many other domesticated animals, cats still maintain very strong instincts from their wildcat ancestors. Some behaviorists say domestic cats still have three paws in the jungle. That means that even though your domestic cat is thankful for the food, love, and indoor safety, her instincts will drive her to stalk and pounce even if she’s not particularly hungry.
The instinct to hunt is a key component to your cat’s health since it keeps her body and mind active. If you don’t already, encourage her inner-hunter by adding a wand toy or laser pointer to playtime!
Q: Dear Nora, My cat never goes outside, but I’m pretty sure I saw a flea jump off his back yesterday. Is that even possible?
A: Unfortunately, it is possible. I actually have first hand experience with this. My sister and I got fleas last summer, and neither of us had been outside since we were rescued years ago. There had been a stray cat hanging out by our front door and I think a flea jumped off of him and slipped inside through a small gap in our door. It may have also hitchhiked in on my mom’s sock.
If you suspect fleas, ACT FAST! Those little buggers can multiply like crazy and quickly get out of hand.
Q: Dear Nora, Sometimes when my cat is happy she lays on her back and displays her cute little belly to me. It’s nearly impossible to avoid touching it since I know it will be so soft and squishy. However, every time I reach out to touch it she scratches and bites me. Why does she do this? Is she just taunting me?
A: I know, it’s confusing when we do this. The first thing you should know is that, generally, if your cat is flashing her belly at you it’s a sign that she really trusts you. All of our vital organs are tucked away inside there and exposing it to you leaves your cat in a vulnerable position– she won’t lay belly up for just anyone! When you go in for a belly scratch and she attacks you, it’s not because she has been taunting you. It’s just that you have triggered a reflex that she uses to protect herself against danger. Try going in slower and giving her some warning– it may help. But some cats simply don’t want their bellies touched ever, and you may have to resign yourself to living without it.
Q: Dear Nora, I’m thrilled to be hosting my very first Thanksgiving dinner this year. My cat is social and sweet and I think he’ll love having a house full of friends and family who will be eager to pet him. Are there any things I need to keep in mind to keep my cat safe during this celebration?
A: Celebrations are fun. I personally like to celebrate from under the couch, but it sounds like I’m much more of a loner than your cat. There are a handful of ways your Thanksgiving celebration could be dangerous for your cat, so it’s a good thing you asked! Here are some tips for keeping him safe:
Keep him out of the kitchen, if you can. The kitchen can be an extra dangerous place for your kitty during a food-based holiday. Everything from a stovetop full of hot burners to stray knives on the counter to extra feet accidentally stepping on paws– not to mention the possibility of him tripping you while you’re walking with something hot or sharp.
Know which foods are toxic. Thanksgiving is full of foods that can be toxic to him. Check out this handy food guide from www.peteducation.com.
Dispose of dangers quickly. Dispose of strings and plastic wrappings in a timely manner so your cat can’t ingest them. You probably don’t want to spend your holiday at the Emergency Vet.
Careful with candles. Candles are obviously a fire hazard if he tips them over. He can also get burned by brushing up against a flame or hot wax.
Don’t let your guest feed him table scraps. Cats always think they want to eat what the humans are eating, but we have very sensitive stomachs and eating scraps can cause tummy issues. Trust me, you don’t want to clean up the aftermath of that.
Keep the door closed. Things can get confusing when a lot of people are coming and going. Keep an eye on the door to make sure it stays shut and that your cat isn’t lurking around the door waiting for his chance to make a run for it.
Know which potted plants and cut flowers are toxic. Your guests may have good intentions when they bring you a bouquet of flowers or a potted plant, but many of them can be dangerous if your cat gnaws on them. Reference the ASPCA’s toxic plant guide to be sure!
Know the Poison Control Hotline number. Always a good thing to have on hand, just in case: (888) 426-4435
Create a safe space. Even a social cat may get overstimulated in a home full of guests. Make sure he has a place to escape to if he wants to nap in peace. This can be as simple as moving his favorite bed into your bedroom. You may want to relocate his food and water dish for the day too.
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.