Cat Chat

We asked veterinarian Katrina Warren, star of Animal Planet's Housecat Housecall, to solve your biggest kitty dilemmas.
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Dogs are one thing. But come on, can you really train a cat?
True, it's a lot easier to train a dog. But you can walk cats on a harness outdoors and you can teach them to do basic things, like sit or come, using food rewards. You just have to be more patient.

Okay, let's start with scratching up the furniture. How do you get your cat to cut it out?
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats -- they do it to remove the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark territory with the scent glands in their paws, and just to get exercise. Since you can't stop the behavior you need to give your cat something that's okay to scratch. Cats like the feel of rough, irregular surfaces, which is why most scratching posts are carpeted. Put one right beside the piece of furniture your cat has been using and encourage it to scratch that instead.

What about a cat that suddenly stops using the litter box?
First, check with your vet to see if there's an underlying medical condition such as a urinary tract infection. Then it's time to play detective. Is the litter box near its food or water? They don't like that. Is the litter clean? Has the arrival of a new baby or animal in the household upset the cat? Sometimes cats don't like a particular brand of litter, so if you decided to change it recently, switch back.

So many cats insist on drinking out of faucets. What's up with that?
Cats love running water, probably because it's cool and fresh. You can buy a water fountain that's made specifically for cats. It's basically a plug-in water bowl with a reservoir. The device recirculates water, so it's always running. Put the fountain next to the faucet the cat has been drinking from and gradually move it from there to wherever you want it.

How do I keep my cat off the kitchen countertops?
Give it something more interesting to do. Put a climbing tree right in the kitchen and buy new cat toys. Also, cut clutter. The more stuff on the counter, the more appealing it is to a cat.

Can an outdoor cat ever get used to living indoors?
Absolutely. I recently helped some farm cats that went to live in a New York City apartment. They were used to chasing things around, so we gave them laser lights to chase and played DVDs that showed footage of birds flitting around. They would sit there and watch the TV screen. Keeping cats indoors is best so they won't get lost or hit by a car, but you need to give them lots to do and spend time playing with them every day.

If you think your cat is bored, should you get a second cat?
Pet owners often think cats want a playmate, but in fact they don't like sharing spaces. So you can't just add a new cat to your household and expect everyone to get along. To do the introduction properly, make sure each cat has its own food, water, and litter box in order to feel secure.

Can people in small homes give cats enough play space?
Definitely -- we even did it on a houseboat. The key is using vertical space. Cats like going high as opposed to wide anyway. You can buy a tall, narrow climbing tree, get a ramp that goes up to a ledge, or try a window perch -- a little shelf that attaches to the windowsill and can hold a cat bed.

Why is it that so many cats seem magnetically attracted to people who don't like them?
People who dislike cats are more likely to ignore them, which ironically makes those people more approachable. Cats don't like being stared at.

What's up with the kneading, aka "making biscuits"?
That goes back to when they were babies. Kittens knead on their mother to get more milk. For a grown cat it's a comforting action.

Why do they love to rub up against people's legs?
Cats have scent glands on the sides of their faces. When a cat rubs against you, it's saying hello -- and claiming you as part of its territory.

You really seem to love cats. Why don't you own one yourself?
Sadly, my beautiful cat Millie passed away recently. She was 9. I may get another one soon, though.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2010.


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