Solve #Cats Potty Problems: Fixing Hit or Miss Litter-ary Mistakes

Little Kittens

Cats and kittens don’t read the “rule book” so it’s up to us to show them what’s wanted. (All images this post provided by DepositPhotos.com)

One of the top complaints I get as a cat behavior consultant has to do with elimination problems and how to deal with cat potty problems. I’m sharing tips from my book, ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Cat Household, but the suggestions work equally well in a single-cat home.

A sudden loss of litter box allegiance means either the litter box is unacceptable, the cat feels bad, or the other cats make her avoid the bathroom. More than one-third of cats with elimination problems have an underlying health condition and if Sheba refuses to use the box to urinate (or defecate) but not both, look for a medical problem.That’s one reason I now use and recommend Perfect Litter, since it will change color (pink-to-red) when the cat’s urine pH goes too high, which can indicate a urinary health issue. (You can try Perfect Litter free for a month, too!)

When cats won’t use the litter box, punishment won’t work. You must first identify and then remove the cause, re-establish good habits, and prevent a return to the scene of the crime.

Small gray kitten in blue plastic litter cat isolated on white

Gorgeous picture–BUT how many things are WRONG in this photo? (Hint: SIZE MATTERS!)

HOW TO SOLVE LITTER BOX PROBLEMS

Cats like routine, even in potty duty. Typically, a cat will defecate once or twice a day usually at the same time — and urinate two to six times a day. However, it’s not unusual for some adult cats to urinate only once every 36 hours or so. You can use this information to monitor and manage your cats’ bathroom activities. Here are some tips that may help return your cat to proper potty behavior.

  • Keep the toilet clean by scooping waste and discarding it at least twice a day. The more cats you have, the greater the amount of waste and ensuing smell which offends you and the cats.
  • Be sure to empty and clean the entire box at least once a week. Use scalding hot water but no harsh-smelling disinfectants, because the detergent smell can be just as off-putting to the cats.
  • Many cats don’t want to “go” after another cat. Others demand a separate box for urine and another for feces, and some dominant cats guard the facilities and won’t let the others use it. Use the one-plus-one rule to solve litter box woes: provide one litter box for each cat, plus one (that’s three boxes for two cats, for example).
  • Adding an automatic litter box helps enormously, because the litter ALWAYS stays clean. However, it may take some training to teach cats to use this facility. We had a LitterMaid for many years, and Seren loved it!
  • Clean soiled areas thoroughly or the scent will draw Sheba (even innocent bystanders!) back to the scene of the crime. Avoid using ammonia-based products, which cats think smells like the ammonia in their own urine.
  • To find hidden urine accidents, invest in a quality “black light” and shine it around after you’ve turned off lights in the suspect areas. Cat urine glows under the black light. Here’s a black light kit designed for finding litter-ary mistakes!
  • If your cats target plastic or rubber-backed bath mats, toss out the mats. The backing hosts various microorganisms designed to keep the carpet stain-resistant, but it smells like urine to cats, and many felines eliminate on these mats because they already smell like a litter box.
  • Cats prefer certain kinds of texture, granularity, and coarseness in the litter. Offer a “smorgasbord” of litter substrates for cats to choose their ideal. Offer sand and potting soil mix for cats used to doing their “duty” outside.
  • Change the depth of litter (increase or decrease) or remove the plastic liner to make the box more attractive. Cats that scratch to cover their waste may dislike catching their claws in the plastic liner.
  • Once you find a litter your cats like, don’t mess with success. If your cats prefer the linoleum, wood floor, or bathtub, offer an empty litter box, and then gradually add litter. When changing a litter to a new one, always transition gradually with a top-coat dusting of the NEW on top of the OLD and add a bit more of the new litter day by day.
  • Buy a new box. Plastic holds odor and smelly old boxes offend cats even when you’ve scrubbed them. Cats that “blame” the old box for a scare or discomfort often eagerly embrace a new facility.
  • Covered boxes help contain litter when energetic diggers throw sand everywhere, but they hold odors, and your shy cats may fear being trapped inside and avoid using them. Offer different types of toilets — uncovered or covered — to encourage kitty to choose one. Very large cats may not be able to pose in a standard size box without dropping deposits or urinating over the edge. Offer a much bigger container such as a clear plastic storage bin to accommodate these cats.
  • A storage bin type container works well for up to three small to medium cats willing to share, so you can reduce the total numbers of boxes. I use a huge sterilite container for my cats — and it’s clear so they can “see” if someone is coming and aren’t surprised or trapped.
  • Very young, elderly, or ill cats have trouble reaching the box in time. Provide a toilet on each floor of multi-story homes, or at each end of single-story floor plans to give these felines a better opportunity for a pit stop. I also offer a low-sided but very large box to accommodate Seren’s arthritis so she can easily climb in and out.
  • For tiny kittens, or very arthritic older cats, a regular box may be too large for him to climb in and out, so offer a cookie sheet or cut down the sides of the box.
  • If you know or suspect one of your cats guards the toilet from the others, be sure to position litter boxes in more than one location. Sheba can’t guard them all at once, and that way at least one is available to the rest of the cats at all times.
  • Be sure boxes are in a low traffic area, and quiet location such as a closet or storeroom. Laundry rooms where a dryer buzzer frightens the cat in mid-squat, may be less than ideal.
  • Sometimes placing the new litter box right on top of the soiled area encourages cats to use the box in that location. Once they again use the box, gradually move it to a more appropriate area a foot or so a day.
  • Make the illegal location unattractive so they willingly use the proper toilet. Give the soiled area a different connotation by placing favorite cat toys, food bowls, bed or scratching post on top of the soiled area, once it’s been cleaned.

The longer house soiling goes on, the harder it is to correct. To reestablish good habits, temporarily confine the problem cats to a small area with a litter box whenever they can’t be supervised. Usually cats prefer to use a box rather than having to live with the accident. Behaviorists recommend one week’s confinement for every month Sheba has been soiling, but that ratio can be decreased if the problem has been in existence more than six months.

Have your cats ever “missed the mark?” How did you manage the problem? Was it a health issue or something else? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Veteran Love: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior #Cats & #Dogs

Dog thinking outside the box

(All images this post from DepositPhotos.com, used with permission)

This time of year, the holidays can prompt yearnings to adopt a new furry wonder. Nothing beats puppies and kittens for fun. But senior citizen pets offer many advantages. Remember that small dogs and cats often live into their mid- to late-teens or early twenties, while larger dogs remain happy and vital at least a decade. Old fogey pets often have lots of love to share, so think about it.

November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month, and I’ve recently updated my two “aging dog” and “aging cat” care books in honor of the event and recently blogged about DIY tips for aging pets.  Here are 8 benefits I hope will convince you to take a chance on a golden oldie.

Less Initial Cost. A mature dog or cat has already been spayed or neutered, and had routine vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are magnets for trouble, and suffer more injuries through nonstop play and exploration than sedate older pets.

Predictable Health. By the time a dog or cat reaches mature status, health or behavior problems will be apparent. That helps adopters plan and provide ways to keep seniors happy and comfortable rather than being surprised by an unexpected issue. For instance, a Dachshund with a history of back problems can be offered steps and ramps to reach the sofa and a beloved owner’s lap. Even with a health challenge, old fogey pets make wonderful companions.

CatDogOnBack_40214727_originalKnown Personality. Puppies and kittens are works-in-progress and hard to predict adult personality. For instance, lap-snugglers as babies may snub cuddles once they grow up. But what you see is what you get with an adult pet. The senior dog or cat personality has been established, making it easier to match your perfect pet requirements. You can choose a dog-loving feline, an active rugged dog, or a pet willing to lap sit.

Already Trained. Older dogs often have already been trained basic obedience. They know how to “sit” and walk nicely on leash, for example.

More Polite. The mature dog has fewer urges to act like a juvenile delinquent. They may still have bursts of energy and enjoy playtime. But older dogs won’t be as likely to jump up, “hump” your leg, or knock down the kids trying to race them out the door. Mature felines won’t be as interested in using your head as a launch pad, or your pant leg as a moveable scratch post.

Fewer Behavior Problems. Puppies and kittens only learn by making mistakes. But a mature pet already knows the rules of the house. An older dog knows not to chew the TV remote or your shoes. She’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go.” The mature kitty understands litter box etiquette, no longer climbs the Christmas tree, or swings from the drapes. He knows not to excavate the potted palm or play ping-pong with the parakeet.

boy with white catKid Friendly. Older pets that have been around babies, toddlers and young children already know how to interact. They can be a wonderful choice for a child’s first pet. Dogs especially may “adopt” your human baby, and shower the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care. They put up with toddler tail tugs with a patient purr or doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend, or reaching out for that tempting feline tail. A mature pet can offer the child a special friend who listens but never tells secrets, a sympathetic purring or wagging presence that acts as a stabilizing influence. Older pets are less fragile than puppies and kittens and can teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures.

senior woman and dogSenior Citizen Friendly. Many older people have loved and lived with pets all their lives. But they may worry what might happen should they outlive a newly adopted puppy or kitten. A mature dog or cat offers just as much love but a more manageable number of years that can be more attractive to older owners. Mature cats and dogs have fewer energy needs—they won’t need owners to take them jogging when rolling a ball down the hallway will suffice. Older owners who have fragile skin can also choose mature pets already trained to be careful with claws and play bites. And the older dog—even if not leash trained—isn’t as able to drag the owner around.

Dogs and cats don’t know they’re old. They only know they are loved. There are many advantages to adopting an “old fogey pet” and these special animal companions return your love in unexpected and glorious ways.

Do you have a “golden oldie?” Did you adopt them when they were seniors, or did they grow up and grow old in your home? Magical-Dawg is now 8 year’s young and Seren-Kitty is 17. Even my thrillers include older pets–there’s something extra special about these lovely old timers. Why did you choose a mature dog or cat? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Listen To Your Muse: How #Pets, #Music & #Theater Make a Paw-sitive Difference for Animals

LeaseOfThese

Gotcha day adoption during STRAYS. (All images courtesy of Mike Marlow, used with permission)

I call myself the “accidental pet writer” because I had plans to be a New York Broadway star…and instead my career went to the dogs (and cats). There were very few jobs available in a small town in Eastern Kentucky where my husband and I first lived after we got married, and so I interviewed with a veterinarian for an office manager position.

My interview took place during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the vet asking me questions while handing newborn puppies for me to resuscitate. I think I got the job because I didn’t pass out!
There were so many amazing experiences as a result of working with veterinarians and I used to share them with my mother. She finally said, “Amy, you’ve got to write those stories down!”

And so I did, and my nonfiction pet-writing career was born. A few thousand articles and 30 nonfiction pet books later, my dream of writing fiction became a reality by combining the cat and dog expertise with fast-paced emotion-driven stories in novels. My debut thriller LOST AND FOUND introduced animal behaviorist September Day and her service dog Shadow, and my most current release HIDE AND SEEK continues her story.

But I never could have imagined that writing about cats and dogs would lead me BACK to the stage—to the Honey McGee Playhouse as a playwright/composer with my partner-in-thespian-crime, Frank Steele.

Kaitlyn-Christina-DreamCat

DREAM CAT song, sung by “Queen Cat” Christina Childress (above) and danced by “Pariah Cat” Kaitlyn Casmedes

THE THEATER CONNECTION

We’d already collaborated on other scripts, including KURVES, THE MUSICAL, but both of us are passionate pet people. I think Frank first brought up the concept of a pet-centric show, with actors portraying cats and dogs in funny or poignant scenes to not just entertain, but explain these behaviors. We didn’t want funny animal makeup or elaborate costumes, though. Our characters, we decided, would be developed strictly through the actor’s skill—so they’d need to love pets themselves.

STRAYS was born over countless glasses of iced tea and scribbled notes, developed through back and forth emailed lyrics and dialogue, written and revised music, recording the orchestration, and finally polishing with the help of two different volunteer casts, setting up a “cast recording” and three preview performances. Truly, the show was written in “kitty litter” with final polishing help from the cast.

The generosity and support of SCP Theatricks made the performance possible–how often does your own hometown get to debut an original theater production? PLEASE support the arts in your community–Frank and I hope this experience opens the door for other local artists. It’s been quite a journey.

PuppyMonologue

“PUPPY MONOLOGUE” was the first scene written in STRAYS, with “Puppy” performed by Kate Carson.

THREE YEAR PROJECT

The first scenes were written in August 2011. Now, after a 40 month gestation, STRAYS has been born this week, thanks to a brilliant cast and crew of local talent. Mee-WOW!

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser. Frank and I never intended to write a “kids show” and STRAYS was designed for an all-adult cast. Through the review-style performance, the various scenes and a dozen songs highlight the many ways cats and dogs lose their homes—mostly because of “normal” behaviors—and also offer tips to solve problems and preserve that most special loving bond between pets and owners.

ItsNormal

Our youngest cast members shine in “NORMAL” chorus.

Because of the venue and its wonderful support, we’ve cast the show not only with experienced adult performers but also talented young thespians from the Theatricks program. Their own “furry muses” are featured in the curtain call, too!

Muse

“THE MUSE” song, led by MacKenzie Kozak (center) with slide show above illustrating how our cats and dogs inspire us every day.

Last night was OPENING NIGHT of STRAYS, the MUSICAL. The amazing cast of 30 performers prompted laughter, cheers, and perhaps a few tears in the generous crowd gathered for the event. What a feeling! To have the words and music come to life–and take on a furry life of their own–is every creative’s dream-come-true.

If you’ve never visited the lovely Honey McGee Playhouse, now is your opportunity. STRAYS takes the stage again tonight and tomorrow, 7 pm. on November 7 & 8. Tickets are $10 general admission at the door, or reserve online at www.THEATRICKS.org on the STRAYS page.

There’s even a fund raising program to benefit Animal Refuge Foundation and Red River SPCA during the show. At last night’s event, we gave away a big basket of dog food and a cat-care basket with fun toys, pet CD and cat care books. Pet carriers, more books and pet food, a “well pet vet package” and waived adoption fees are also offered!

Here are a few more photos from the show, taken by the amazing Mike Marlow. He also videotaped the entire show last night, so DVDs and photos from the show will be available to the cast. We may be able to make it available to theater groups interested in producing the STRAYS show.

PuffPuff

“Puff Puff” (Jim Barnes) and “Mom-Cat” (Marty Burkart) discuss how litter-ary mishaps lost them their homes.

CuzImADawg

Theresa Littlefield sings the dawgie blues to “Show Dog” (Jesse Childress) about the normal behaviors that got her kicked out of her home.

PetDebate

Lew Cohn (left) and Susan McGinn (right) in the Pet Debate….”why dogs roll in “schtuff” etc.

No, I never intended to be a writer. I never planned to be an animal behavior consultant. For sure, I never thought I’d be a choir teacher, or a composer, or heck…never imagined I’d live in Texas…But I did all of that. Sometimes, the unexpected turns into something wonderful.

StraysProgramPlease come share our “something wonderful” celebration this week, as our STRAYS cast makes our dream comes true. And don’t forget to dream up your own “something wonderful.” You just might discover an unexpected, glorious dream-come-true of your own!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Got Strays? Pet-Astic Theater Celebration Helps #Cats & #Dogs

FullStraysCastSTRAYS, an original musical by local playwrights Amy Shojai and Frank Steele, premiers at the Honey McGee Playhouse for three nights only November 6, 7, 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm. Cast with 30 local talents, the review-style show explores furry foibles from the PETS’ point of view.

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser, and isn’t specifically a “kids show,” although talented thespians from the Theatricks program are cast. All ages will enjoy STRAYS.

“I’ve been a fan of STRAYS since I saw the concert preview back in 2013,” says Susan McGinn, “so I’m delighted that my husband John, daughter Sarah, and I are cast for the first fully staged production! It’s been fascinating (and unique in all my theater experience) to be directed by the co-writers of the show and watch them refine and tweaked the script and score during the rehearsal process. It’s an honor for all of us who are acting in the production to know that our work has contributed to shaping STRAYS.”

PariahCat2

Susan McGinn (far left) and the other “cats” intimidate the Pariah Cat (crouched center) played by Kaitlyn Casmedes.

Jim Barnes recorded the show songs for the preview cast album, and decided to audition for the staged performance. He portrays the only boy cat, a feline who has used up 8 of his 9 lives. “I like performing in STRAYS because it gives me a chance to make people laugh,” he says. “Everyone should see it. You will laugh, you will cry a little and you will learn some insight on the behaviors of animals.”

TheresaLittlefield-LewCohn-JimBarnes

Jim Barnes sings how he’s wasted 8 of his 9 lives, while two dogs (played by Theresa Littlefield and Lew Cohn) look on.

The large cast has become close. Lew Cohn says, “It is great to see talented performers of such a wide variety of ages come together to perform original material that is so well written and informative about the plight of stray animals. My favorite scene is the Old Dogs Talking, in which I play a Bassett hound with various “difficulties” that make for a lot of fun. But there’s something for everyone—bust a gut comedy, tear jerking drama and great original songs that tell a story.”

LewCohn-SteveMildward

Two dogs played by Lew Cohn (left) and Steven Mildward (right) discuss bulldogs, bullfrogs, worms and Poodles–and other important dog schtuff.

Steve Mildward has been involved in many productions, both onstage and backstage. “I can address the excitement that comes from the direct involvement with the writers. In the classics, you can’t ask what the intent was. In this production, the directors are there to lend that insight.”

Cohn also appreciates being able to create a role from the ground up. “This is an exciting opportunity to set the bar in an original show.”

Abraham-Eliana-Sofia-Guerra

Abraham (a puppy) and kittens Eliana and Sofia Guerra have featured roles in the show.

For some actors, STRAYS is their first onstage experience. Carolina Guerra and her daughters Sofia and Eliana are first-time performers cast when Carolina’s son Abraham decided to audition. She especially enjoys being able to share the experience with her family. “My kiddos love to perform but I am more of an introvert so I was not sure how it would go. Much to my surprise, the play has been both educational and fun for all of us. It has been a great introduction to being in a theatrical production. I might even consider trying out for another one.”

Her son Abraham is a veteran of Theatricks productions, and says he likes getting to wear a bone as one of the puppies. He also performs a dog rap. His favorite scene is Show Dog, because it’s so funny. “The main difference (compared to other plays) is being on stage the whole time,” he says. “In some ways it is easier because we are not running back and forth but it is also hard because you have to stay in character the whole time.”

Both Sofia and Eliana Guerra like playing kittens. Sofia loves to sing and march in GOTCHA DAY, while Eliana prefers the fun song NORMAL.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be not only working on a new show but a show with an important message,” says Kaitlyn Casmedes, who choreographed STRAYS and portrays the “pariah” cat. “Anyone whose heart goes out to animals will love this show.”

Carolina says her favorite song is RAINBOW PETS, the finale. “In particular the lines, “Lessons learned don’t come for free…shed no tear have no fear pay it forward in kind.” What a great life lesson not just about pet ownership but everything in life. I hope my kiddos will remember these words forever.”

“There’s a line in STRAYS that I think describes perfectly why the show is so appealing,” adds Susan McGinn. “There’s a lot of love represented here, a lot of love.” When the joyous finale arrives, we all truly feel it. We want the audience to know about the happiness that comes from helping cats and dogs in need. We can’t wait for opening night!”

The Honey McGee Playhouse hosts three performances November 6, 7, 8. Tickets are $10 each available for sale at the door or can be reserved online at https://www.theatricks.org/ by clicking on the STRAYS link.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

That Bites! Keep Halloween Fangs At Bay

Halloween Witch

Image Copr. DepositImages.com/Steph_Zieber

 

Friday is Halloween–are you and your dogs and cats ready? What about your kids? Sure, you and your kids are comfy around your own pets, but what about the strange dogs they’ll meet while trick-or-treating?

Dog bites injure nearly 5 million people every year. Half of all kids in the United States get bitten by age 12, and five-to-nine-year-old boys are at highest risk. You can prevent dog bites, it doesn’t have to happen. Most dog bites result from inappropriate interaction with the family pet, with a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog—or even your puppy.

Many dogs enjoy the holidays. Nonstop doorbell rings and visitors showering attention may be doggy bliss for your pet. But even friendly, laid-back pooches get their tails in a twist over the disruption to routine. That can be dangerous for pets and for people.

Dogs recognize people by smell but also by sight. A dog may not recognize a favorite human behind that Halloween mask. Miniature goblins, witches and other ghoulish visitors often are strange children he won’t know. A flowing cape or sparkly fairy wings can be scary. A frightened dog easily mistakes a waving “light saber” or pitch fork as a weapon aimed to hurt. Halloween can increase your child’s risk for a dog bite–so refer to my article for Tips to Prevent Dog Bites.

PULLING THEIR FANGS–NOT LITERALLY

Don’t forget to train the dog! All dogs bite and chew, but it’s important to teach bite inhibition and stop puppy biting before it gets out of hand. What’s baby-cute or aggravating in your new pup becomes dangerous once he grows up. One accidental bite could label your pet as a “dangerous dog” and result in an expensive lawsuit, increased insurance rates, and costly medical bills. Teaching bite inhibition not only protects people and prevents heartbreak, it could save your dog’s life. You can learn more about how to teach your puppy (or adult dog–it works on the big guys, too!) how to pull their toothy punches and inhibit bites.

Please share! This info can save kids and pets any time of the year, not just at Halloween. But for more Halloween safety tips for your dog in this Halloween Ideas for Puppies roundup, including costume tips and first aid for too much candy.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!