Good Owners, Great Cats

Good Owners, Great Cats

by Brian Kilcommons, Sarah Wilson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446518079
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 11/14/1995
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 7.75(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Required Reading

Cats grace us with their affection. They are rarely angling for anything—unless it is around dinnertime. When they curl up on your lap, it's because they think you're worth spending time with. When they climb onto your shoulder, it's because they trust that you will carry them safely. When they lie across your magazine, it's because they can't believe their best friend would rather look at this flat, boring thing than their sleek, gorgeous, purring selves.

Most of this book was written with Emily curled on Sarah's lap keeping her company at the computer. At this moment, Emily hops to the floor with a parting squeak. She proceeds to drink a little water, then jumps back up on the desk. She starts grooming herself, one leg pointed skyward as she cleans her sweet, soft belly. Then she lounges back coyly with a small meow—asking for a bit of attention. When it is not forthcoming, she leaps to the printer, continues her toilette, and prepares, we are sure, to curl into the top for a well-deserved nap.

She is ever close, ever present, ever observing but she rarely intrudes. Her world is linked to ours but does not revolve around it. To share your life with a cat is to see grace of body and spirit on a daily basis, if you pay attention, if you know what to look for.

Understanding Your Cat

As usual, Emily is curled on my lap. An occasional paw gently touches my fingers as they fly across the keyboard. Her tail drapes slackly across my left arm. Her head is pressed against the inside of my right arm. Her warmth fills my lap and her purrs lull us both.

Cats have the mistaken label of being aloof—uninterested in human companionship. This is not true. They just don't worry about what you want from them.

Anyone who has lived with a well socialized cat who is carefully cherished knows that strong bonds can be formed between humans and felines. Cats are affectionate, playful, charming, and sweet companions. In the same breath, anyone who has ever cohabited with a cat who was not socialized with people at an early age knows that such a cat is quite content to live his life quietly separate from any human companion. That ability to adapt and thrive in very different scenarios is part of the mystery of cats.

To gain insight into this species, you first need to understand some basics about their social structure. Lets start by looking at cats as individuals. Each cat has four basic areas that he is quite aware of. You, as a human, have similar zones, so to illustrate we'll draw comparisons for you.

The first, and smallest, zone is your personal space. This space is reserved for intimates. This is the sit-right-down-next-to-you space. If you were in an empty room and some stranger came in and sat down so close he was touching you, you would think this odd. You probably would glare at him, ask him to move, or move yourself. Your cat has this same range. He allows his close friends and family into it. He'll sit on your lap fine. But many cats won't sit on a stranger's lap for a second. He'll allow his best buddy to groom him, but if a strange cat walked into the house—look out!

The next zone is his social zone. This correlates to your general friend zone. Depending on who is in the zone, he'll allow them quite close or keep a few feet distance. But he won't happily allow touching. Ben and Emily stay within this comfort zone with each other. They'll share a bowl, sleep in the same area of a room, but they are not buddies and probably never will be. Ben is up for some closeness but not Emily. She either threatens him or retreats when Ben tries to touch her. This is the zone your cat shares when he allows a guest to sit on the couch near him.

Next is his home zone. This correlates to your house and yard. This is the area he considers his and his alone. He'll chase off any intruders, patrol his property, and generally keep it private. The size of this zone varies widely depending on the cat population within the area and how much food is available. Cats can learn to tolerate close quarters with one another, if there is plenty of food. Not enough food means more struggle for larger territories. Not so very different from us, are they?

The last zone, and the largest, is his neighborhood zone. This is the area he knows well, but shares with other cats. Just as you have no problem with your neighbors being in their yards, cats have little problem with the neighboring cats being in their territories. The whole group watches over the area together. They know one another, accepting one another's comings and goings, but they do not accept strangers wandering around.

Most cats live as individuals within a private, relatively spacious territory. But if there is a plentiful food supply, cats will congregate. Cats living in large numbers together form a social system—often a complex one. Within this system there are three basic levels of status.

On the top of the heap you have the king of all he surveys; the one for whom the sea parts. This is normally an intact male. He is respected by all.

The next layer are the masses. Most of the cats fall into this grouping. Their main similarity is that they all understand that the king is the king. Other than that, they are of equal status to one another.

Within this group are matriarchal family units containing mothers, daughters aunts, nieces, all of whom work together to care for their young. Females within these groups will suckle one another's young, hunt for all, and defend one another's kittens fiercely.

Below them are the unlucky few with the "kick me" signs pasted on their backs. They are the feline version of the kids who always get beat up on the playground. These cats stay on the perimeter of the group, trying to stay out of the line of fire.

Understanding this basic feline social structure allows you to better understand your cat's behaviors. If you live with a group of cats, as many cat lovers do, you will see much of this social network in action. But understanding the larger social system is not all that helpful unless you understand the language of cats.

Feline Communication

Cats communicate using body posture, movement, voice, and scent. Their language is universal. A cat from Greece will understand a cat from Canada perfectly. Seemingly, no cat speaks with an accent.


Limber, agile, muscular, flexible, athletic—all these words describe a fit cat. Cats use their bodies eloquently. Cats can be the masters of understatement. If a cat sits with his back to you, he is saying just what you think he is saying. Not now, not here, not you. If a cat lounges in front of you, he is feeling confident and relaxed. If he rolls on his back, he may be feeling relaxed, trusting, and playful. Don't count on that though. A cat on his back is also in a defensive position. Even a mellow cat may react with a scratch or bite if you pet his belly. It is an instinctive response for many cats.

In general, any cat who is trying to appear larger than he is by arching his hack and puffing out his hair is on the defensive. Cats tend to turn sideways to the aggressor in order to appear as large as possible. He is frightened, trying to look intimidating, and will fight if pressed.

A cat attempting to appear smaller than nature intended, by lying down, lowering her head, flattening back her ears, whiskers held close to the face, fur not raised up, tail held close to the body, possibly wagging against the ground, is frightened and hoping no one notices her. She will defend herself intensely if pressed but would prefer to be left alone.

A semi-flattened crouching cat, usually emitting a long, low growl, with tail held near to the body, probably wagging back; and forth, is on the aggressive. Ears are mostly forward and up, whiskers are bristling. He is ready and able to stand his ground, so don't press him.


Eyes are indeed the window to the soul, especially with cats. Cats, not being a deceiving group, will let you know precisely what they think of you with a glance.

If a cat looks at you for a few seconds, blinks, then turns away you have been acknowledged but not invited. Sort of the feline version of the curt nod you might make to someone on the street. Hardly an invitation to a long conversation but not rude either.

A long, hard stare is more likely than not a threat. It has a universal meaning whether it is some stranger on the street glaring at you or a cat doing it—proceed with caution.

A cat who is your friend may make extended eye contact in a soft way, and mean nothing but nice things by it. The whole body must be read in certain situations to understate what the cat's motivation is.

The pupils of the eyes tell you much. Dilated wide, they scream fear at you. If you are not sure your cat is frightened or not, look at those pupils. Wide eyes with wide pupils means something scary is afoot. An aggressive cat's pupils may be slits, as contracted as possible.


A cat's ears are wildly more mobile than ours, cupped to catch the tiniest sound. Cats hear much more than we do. Because the ears are so visible and mobile, cats use them to communicate with one another. Some Cats even have tufts of hair on the tips of their ears, which act as flags, making the language of the ear even more clear.

Ears held up may be curious, happy, playful, relaxed, but whatever they are, they are usually a positive sign. The exception to this is some aggressive cats, whose ears are up due to confidence, not friendliness.

Ears held to the side show fear, distrust, or defense, depending on the cat and the situation. If the cat is upset, respect these signs and steer clear.

Ears flattened back against the head indicate panic, aggression, full attack, and are a huge, red blinking behavioral light for you. Warning! Retreat if at all possible, or pay the consequences.


If you can read a cat's tail, you'll know pretty much what your cat is thinking.

There is the straight-up parade tail used to display confidence and pride. Cats holding their tail like this tend to strut.

There is the bottlebrush tail of fear. Puffed up and trying to look larger than life, this tail is bravado and fear all rolled up into one. Never try to pick up a frightened cat, he won't appreciate it and neither will you.

There is the slow wag of mild annoyance. This comes from a good sleep being interrupted or an uninvited pat. Many cats want to be near you but not have you stroking them all the time. Watch for that slow wag, it's telling you—enough.

There is the fast, erect tail wag of a happy greeting that accompanies the rubbing, chirping, and purring of your welcome home.

There is the end of the tail twitch, which she'll use when staring out the window at a bird or preparing to pounce on a toy. The longer she stares, the faster the twitching until the whole tail is swinging back and forth vigorously.


Your cat uses scent to mark off his territory. Luckily for us, besides the urine spray, the markers are undetectable to the relatively primitive human nose.

You are probably marked daily by your cat, although you may not know it. Cats have scent glands in their lips, chin, and forehead areas. This being the case, cats mark by rubbing their lips and face against things. That blissful greeting by your cat when you walk through the front door, with him entwined in your legs rubbing and purring against you, is actually him marking you for all to smell: Mine, this person is mine, mine, mine! Which is why they do this when they see us after a long day, or when we come out of a room or in from outside. Our cats mark us with happy head rubs every morning as part of their greeting routine. We love it. Maybe our cats think we're marking them when we stroke them.

Scratching is another common way cats mark. They have scent glands in the pads of their feet and by dragging their scent over objects they effectively mark them. This is why declawed cats will still go through the motion of scratching.

The other way cats mark, the more memorable and unpleasant way for us humans, is with their urine. Adult, unneutered male cat urine is about as bad a smell as you can get in this world. It has an amazing shelf life. You can scrub down an area thoroughly and still, on a warm humid day, that musty smell will haunt you.

Cats urine-mark by backing up to an object and spraying urine on it. Most commonly, the tail is held stiff and erect, vibrating rapidly, and the cat treads up and down with his hind feet. A few favorite places to spray are doorways, objects near windows (especially if that window gives your cat a view of a feline intruder), and new objects in the home.


Purring is a more mysterious process than you might think. We always thought it was a sound that was made in a cat's vocal cords. Turns out it might be, or it might not be; no one has come to any real conclusions yet. And, it's generally thought that cats purr when they are content. That's true, but it's not the only time they purr. Emily purrs like a little motorboat at the vet's. She's not content here, but she purrs nonetheless. I've seen other cats purr when they must be in horrible pain. The cat that springs to mind was an automobile victim that had been struck in the head. His eyes were half-swollen shut, his jaw was wired, he could barely move, but purr he did.

Purring is like the common cold—almost everyone has experienced it yet it is not well understood by science. But perhaps that doesn't matter; cats and owners know precisely what purring means. It is sharing moments together in quiet harmony. It is reaching out in the night for a best friend who is always there. It is a loving head butt against a life-saddened human chin. Whatever else it means, it surely is a cat's rendition of bliss.


Kneading harks back to nursing, where the kitten kneads the mother's teats to bring down her milk. It is an extremely contented behavior, often accompanied by purring and frequently by drooling. The drooling is a Pavlovian leftover of nursing. Just like your mouth waters when you smell your favorite meal cooking, our cat's mouth waters when he goes through the motions of nursing.

Some kittens, who were separated from their mothers too early, will go as far as to nurse on you, or on a blanket or another animal. This generally harmless, if damp, behavior seems to be a comforting one. If you try to stop it, the animal's stress level will rise, causing it to comfort itself with—you guessed it—more nursing. It's best to simply allow it. Work on viewing it as sweet, adorable, charming, unique—that will make it easier on you in the long run. It's already easy for your cat, he's having a fine time.


Cats vocalize for all kinds of reasons, some more than others. The Oriental breeds, like the Siamese and Abyssinian, are notorious talkers. Ben, of no visible Oriental breed heritage, is a major talker. He comments to me as he walks my way. He chats to himself as he goes about his day. He requests to go out, come in, to eat, get up, jump down, for water, and for anything else he desires. He complains about the puppy romping on him. Yet, for all his bellowing and wailing, he never harms the pup. He is a good soul, Ben.

Typical cat sounds are the greeting meow, that happy little chirp cats do when they see you come in. Ben does it as he trots across the floor to say hello. It's a happy sound.

Then there's the "I want something" meow. This is more demanding, louder and longer than the greeting chirp. Most owners hear this around mealtimes, when the cat is at the door, or a cat is shut somewhere he no longer wants to be.

The longest sound is the "I hate you growl-scream" that cats make when they are frightened or angry. It is usually directed at another cat who is an uninvited guest or a feared dog. It is an in-the-throat, tight sound, high-pitched and almost sirenlike. You'll know it when you hear it.

A wonderful cat sound is the chortle-purr that my cats give me when I wake them with a pat. The happy, high-pitched "Hi there! Glad to see you!" that is saved for only very special friends.

The rapid "keh-keh-keh" sound is one some cats make when they are looking at prey they can't have. Normally a human wouldn't hear this but if you have a window bird feeder where the cat sits and watches the birds but cannot get to them, you may get a chance to experience it. The cat will be riveted on the bird, the end of his tail will be twitching, and his jaw will move rapidly back and forth.

How to Handle a Cat

The best way to handle a cat is respectfully. If you respect your cat, you will both got along just fine. Part of respecting a cat is to pet them when they want petting and then let them alone when they want that.

When you touch them, touch them as they present themselves. Head to you stroke the head. Rear to you, run your hand up the tail. Touch them gently. Slide your hand along with the lay of the fur. Must cats do not like rough petting.

If you are not sure what to do, allow the cat to tell you. Reach out toward the cat but do not touch him. If he stays still or retreats, leave him alone. If he reaches out and nuzzles you, run a hand along his cheek or the top of his head. If he rolls on his back—beware! Many cats will play the bite-and-kick game if you scratch their belly. And since they enjoy that game, they'll ask you to play it quite a lot. I rarely do since I don't enjoy it at all.

Many cats dislike constant stroking. This is why they will purr happily along for a minute or two, then turn and bite you, seemingly out of the blue. Watch for subtle changes in your cat's body position. A wagging of the tail, a slight stiffening, can all be signs that the cat has had enough. Stroke them for less than a minute, then stop. Many cats will sit on your lap for a long time but can't tolerate the patting for more than a short time.

Don't betray your cat. Any relationship, animal or human is based on trust. Break that trust and immeasurable things are lost. In few areas is this as clear as with a cat. Cats who have been raised with love and care, never teased or tossed, hurt or harassed are usually relaxed in your arms. They do not know that humans can cause harm. They have never experienced it and cannot imagine it.

Once they learn that hurt can happen, then all is different. Betrayal can be harassing them when they are asleep, holding too tight for too long, teasing the animal—often these acts are dressed up as human humor. People do exist who seem to think this sort of thing is funny—it isn't. The more obvious types of betrayal are hitting, throwing or in any other way hurting the cat. There is never any reason for this.

The good news is that betrayed cats can usually learn to trust again, given some time, patience, love, and an absolute cessation of all abuse. Ben is a good example of a cat who has recovered. When he first got home from the shelter, he'd tense every time we picked him up, immediately struggling to get down when held. He wanted to be near us, and would climb on a lap by his own power, but pick him up and he would struggle We could feel his heart racing. Over time, though, he has come to learn that we will not harm him. He'll still tense if he is scooped top too suddenly, but then he relaxes again. He is home. He knows he is safe.


Most cats have long memories and little sense of humor about being mishandled. A few are exceptions, our Spot was one. She loved the awkward attempts of children to pick her up, even if it was upside down by the haunches. If a cat can smile, Spot did so at those moments. When rescued from this by us, she would hop right down and go directly back to the child. But Spot, as we said, was an exception.

The key to picking up a cat is support. Support the whole body and you can't go too wrong. The easiest way to do this is to scoop the haunches up with one hand, and the chest, just behind the front legs, with the other. This supports the cat securely from both ends and is acceptable to most felines. A secure cat is less likely to try to free himself from a bad situation claws first.

Some cats like being held against your shoulder as if you were about to burp them like an infant. Ben likes this. This was not as good for Spot because she was a natural shoulder sitter and would, inevitably attempt to climb your shoulder into her favored position. Shoulder riding is great fun but something I always do cautiously, as a quick movement can lead to claws digging in for balance. Some cats are masters of balancing without claws, but you'll have to ask your cat about that.

And lastly, some cats accept and even like being cradled in your arms like an infant. This vulnerable position is not every cat's favorite but the trusting cat will delight in it.

What Kind of Cat to Get

Here's the fun question. What kind of cat do you want? Let's start with some of the obvious criteria:


All pet cats need to be neutered. Once neutered, the differences between the two sexes lessen. Both males and females make wonderfully affectionate, devoted companions.


Hairless cats are their own unique selves, beautiful to those who love them. They love to cuddle and are quite a toasty nap companion because their body temperature, like that of all cats, is warmer than ours. Without the fur to insulate you from the skin, hairless cats feel like little purring hot water bottles. Of course they don't shed and fleas find little sanctuary on a hairless cat. Often these are the perfect choice for people with allergies. These genetic creation of man's must stay under our protection at all times. These are strictly indoor animals.

Longhaired cats vary. On the Persian end of things is the profuse soft coat that tangles virtually while they nap. These cats need daily attention to their fur. Maine Coon Cats and others like them have a harsher coat, that requires less grooming to stay beautiful. If you're considering a purebred cat, ask some breeders what will be required in the way of upkeep. If you are getting a longhaired, mixed-breed cat, expect to do daily combing, then be happy if it turns out you don't have to.

Shorthaired cats are the norm and easy animals to maintain. Brushing them is a weekly exercise except during the shedding season where you'll want to do it more often. Also, if your cat is prone to hairballs, groom more frequently. But all in all, these felines require little daily coat maintenance to live long, happy, and healthy lives.


The majority of cat owners in this country have mixed-breed cats, and with the millions of cats who need homes every year, that is a very good thing.

Many cat owners know little about cat breeds past the Siamese and the Persian, but in fact there are many breeds with a wide variety of physical, mental, and structural features.

In general, the more of any of the Oriental breeds your cat is, the more active he is likely to be. Along with that activity comes a high intelligence, a desire to interact with you, and a penchant for getting into trouble. Expect Siamese and Siamese mixes to be pretty chatty as well.


Kittens are adorable. They have to be, or no one would put up with their antics for the first year or so! They charm you with their big purr, right after they have knocked over the vase left to you from dear old Uncle Bob. They leap to your shoulder from the top of the draperies to nuzzle your ear. It's the best of times. It's the worst of times. It's kittenhood.

Adult cats, like a fine wine, just seem to get better with age. Dignity and decorum have, to a certain extent, caught up with curiosity and impulsiveness. They sleep a great deal, often over fifteen hours a day. They are who they are. The friendly cat you selected will no doubt be the friendly cat you live with for many years. Cats live a long time, well into their teens and occasionally into their twenties. An older cat—even one five or six or older—can give you a decade, probably more, of companionship.


We have had cats of all colors and are here to say that it doesn't make a bit of difference. The only thing I would stay away from is pure white cats with blue eyes, as they have a tendency to be deaf. Beyond that, fall in love with the unique personality of the cat and you will surely fall for his coloring.

When we first got Emily, I thought she was a rather ugly color, what I called a faded tabby, kind of murky and indistinct. Of course, now that we know her and love her as we do I see her coloring as subtle and unique. Ah, through the eyes of love, everyone is beautiful.

The Most Popular Purebred Cats

Let it be said, up front, that the single most popular type of cat, by far, is the combo-cat. The "I don't know her history but this is the best cat in the world" cat. Purebred cats are in a minority, but it is still fun to see which are the most popular and why. It is in that spirit that this section is written, for fun and for general information. Maybe you'll see a bit of one of these great breeds in your heritage-unknown feline curled on your lap right now.


Persian cats come in a wide range of colors, including a type marked like a Siamese, which is called a Himalayan. These are dream cats. Stunning in full, groomed coat, elegant,calm, dignified—many people can just picture them lounging on their couch, adding glamour to their lives. Well, they do add that glamour, but they also add hair. Lots of hair. Hair on the cat to comb out daily and we do mean daily. And hair everywhere else to vacuum up as you see fit.

As with other man-made animals, Persians need your constant care and protection. They are not outdoor animals for a variety of reasons. And their extreme facial features, a very short nose in particular, can lead to health difficulties. Go carefully here. Contact the national club and get as much information as you can, before you buy! There are many possible pitfalls on the road to finding a wonderful healthy Persian cat.

Known health problems in these breeds: Chediak-Higashi syndrome (a complex syndrome, noted for the animal's tendency to bleed and a possible increased risk of infections), entropion (inverted eyelids), excessive tearing, glaucoma, tendency for FUS (feline urologic syndrome), seborrhea, wheezing, snorting, and patellar luxation (slipping kneecaps). None of this is the animal's fault, but rather the fault of purebred fashions that encourage the creation of physical extremes over and above the health and welfare of the animals involved.


More active than a Persian (although to be honest that isn't really saying much, as most adult Persians are pretty inactive), easy to maintain, fewer health problems, and a charming personality have given the Maine Coon Cat a steadily growing fan club. They come in a wide range of colors although tabby is the most common. These large, sweet animals well deserve the popularity they are receiving.

Since this is not a breed that lends itself to physical extremes, there is a chance that their health will stay pretty good through the years, but tread warily here. Popularity has destroyed many pure breeds of animal. So far so good, but be cautious.

The health problems to keep an eye out for are patellar luxation (slipping kneecaps) and hip dysplasia—but frankly, both these problems are still pretty rare in the breed so we needn't worry about them too much.


Slim, elegant, beautiful, agile, lithe—all these words and more describe the Siamese cat. Popular for many years, these are interactive animals. They tend to be talkative—a trait Siamese lovers find charming and Siamese haters rank up there with fingernails on a blackboard. This is not a breed to leave alone for long hours every day, as they will inevitably get into mischief looking for outlets for their intelligence and energy. Gregarious cats, they like the company of other animals.

The downside to these beauties is the many health problems that have come as a result of their popularity and thus of years of poor breeding done by profit-hungry people. These problems include hormone-related balding, rolling skin disease, malignant breast tumors, congenital heart defects, cross eyes, bronchial disease, mast cell tumors, esophagus problems, glaucoma, and hip dysplasia, all of which are seen more frequently in this breed than most others.


When you think of Abyssinians, think active, agile, and athletic. Don't expect to watch TV by yourself, or stroll unaccompanied to the restroom if you have an Aby in your life. These cats want to be in the thick of it, no matter what. If you aren't willing or able to entertain them, then they will certainly entertain themselves. Chasing breakables across the floor, playing ankle hockey from under the bed, and generally making you notice them if you are shortsighted enough to have missed their charm in the first place.

If you want a pet to observe, this isn't the right choice. If you want a pet to interact with and who craves interaction with you, then by all means. Enjoy!

Kidney problems, eye problems, patellar luxation (slipping kneecaps), excessive licking and self-grooming can be problems.

Cat Clubs

Cat clubs are wonderful resources of information on cat ownership in general as well as on many specific breeds of cat. Some support the beauty of the common combo-cat and others strive for the perfection of a purebred, while some do both; they all have lots to offer. When writing for information be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

American Association of Cat Enthusiasts
P.O. Box 213
Pine Brook, NJ 07058

American Cat Association BRK 8101 Katherine Avenue
Panorama Cites, CA 91402

American Cat Fanciers Association
P.O. Box 203
Point Lookout, MO 65726

Canadian Cat Association
83 Kennedy Road Unit 1806
Brampton, Ontario
Canada L6W 3P3

Cat Fanciers' Association
1805 Atlantic Avenue
P.O. Box 1005
Manasquan, NJ 08736-0805

Cat Fanciers' Federation
9509 Montgomery Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242

Happy Household Pet Cat Club
Lois Evers
P.O. Box 334
Rome, NY 13440

The International Cat Association
P.O. Box 2684
Harlingen, TX 78551

National Cat Fanciers' Association
20305 West Burt Road
Brant, MI 48164

Traditional Cat Association
1000 Pegasus Farms Lane
Alpharetta, GA 30201

Where to Get Your Cat


Who says the best things in life aren't free? Or almost free? Shelters all over the country are filled with delightful cats and kittens all eagerly awaiting your caring home.

Every possible combination of age, personality, and coat length can be found. Best of all, these cats really need your love; without it most will quite literally die. Emily and Ben are both adopted and couldn't be more wonderful companions.

Selecting a cat from a shelter is a special art. First let it be said that, chances are, you will be chosen by the cat and not vice versa. pets have strong opinions about people. Find one who likes you, that's always a good start.

Decide before you even walk through the door about the type of cat you want—consider temperament and coat maintenance. Try to stay open minded about color. You will come to love your new cat within days of his arrival home, no matter his color.

If you want a friendly, interactive cat—then go in looking for him. Select a kitten or cat who reaches out a soft paw through the bars, makes eye contact, is close to the front of the cage, and is basically trying in every way possible to interact with you.

If you want a friendly, but not too demanding cat, look for the one sitting observing you from the middle or rear of the cage. When you approach there is no hissing, the cat doesn't crouch lower or flatten her ears. She continues to observe. Perhaps with some small talk and a polite invitation from you she will stir herself and come partway to meet you.

Either one of these cats may break into cascades of purrs when you pet them, or they may not. Although purring certainly is a good sign, I would not turn away a cat who was otherwise friendly but purrless. Some relationships take time to develop.

Avoid the hissing, huddled, or hiding cats. While many of these cats can be rehabilitated and settle into a routine life, these are not as easy to own, taking the special touch of an experienced cat person to bring around. Unless you have the time, patience, and, most importantly, expertise, select from one of the many kind and gentle cats looking for a good home.


Emily, our writing assistant, came from a local vet. She came home with all her shots, spayed and in excellent condition. Many vets that we have known will occasionally have a cat or a few kittens around for adoption.

Your vet is not a shelter. Do not drop off stray animals to him. He can only do so much and, as much as it may break his heart, he can't take in all the unwanted, stray animals in your town and stay afloat financially. But try as they might, many vets— due in no small part to their staff ambushing them—end up with an animal or two who needs a home. By all means, take a look.

These cats are no doubt healthy and well cared for medically. Often the animals become the mascots of the staff and are well socialized because of that. All in all, a vet is a wonderful place to find a companion cat.


For purebred cats, the place to find a good, healthy one is at a good, experienced breeder. As with all things, there are people who do an excellent job at what they do for all the right reasons and people who do a poor job for all the wrong reasons. How is a novice to sort out who is who?

Start by visiting the cattery if you can. It should look clean and smell clean. It will smell like cats no doubt, but like clean cats. Many of the cats will probably be in cages, but the cages should be roomy, the litter pans clean, the water bowls full. The cats should he well groomed, bright-eyed, and friendly, especially to their person. The person will be friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to help. If she doesn't have a kitten for you, she'll recommend another fine breeder who does.

A good breeder asks questions about your lifestyle and why you want this breed. Price comes up late in the conversation, if, if, she decides to sell you one of her kittens. She'll answer your questions honestly, telling you the good and the bad about the breed and about cat ownership in general. She'll have just a few litters a year, spending lots of time socializing and raising each litter.

A written contract that you both sign is an excellent omen. It should guarantee against certain genetic problems, with either compensation or replacement of the animal if such problems arise. It is a good sign when a person stands behind the animals she produces. A section requiring you to spay and neuter your kitten before you get his papers is also a sign of a concerned, reputable breeder.


Don't. As cute as that one little kitten is, and they all are, you are encouraging the business of flesh peddling when you buy from a pet store. No good breeder would ever sell a kitten to a pet store to go to some stranger with a credit card. The only animal you can get from a pet store is an overpriced, poorly bred one that has been stressed, frightened, and undersocialized, who has been exposed to numerous diseases and who has an unknown genetic history. If you are a sucker for any kitten, just don't walk in! If you desperately want to save a life from a miserable caged existence, good for you! Go to a shelter and do just that. Don't perpetuate the cycle! Don't give them your business.


Every year millions of kittens are offered free for the taking in local papers around the country. This can he both a fine place to find a companion and a poor place. Deciding which is which is not difficult once you're armed with a bit of information.

Look for home-raised kittens who are in the house when you arrive to see them. Look for older kittens, at least ten weeks old, preferably older. If you have children, finding kittens raised with well-supervised children is a plus. That way the kittens will already know and like kids.

Visit with the mother cat. Her attitude is a pretty good reflection of how the kittens will turn out. The kittens themselves should be confident and playful. When picked up, they should relax quickly. Frightened kittens should be skipped. Keep chanting to yourself: All kittens are cute, all kittens are cute. The next litter will be cute too! Wait for the right kitten to come along.


A stray is someone else's cat who has wandered into your life unannounced. This fine friend shows up on your doorstep or curled in a hall in your garage, takes one look at you, and decides you're worth the trouble.

Often these animals have been neglected, or worse, by their last owners. Or they simply wandered off and got disoriented. There are many possibilities. First thing to do is advertise that you have found a cat. When you run an ad or post a notice, do not describe every feature of the animal. If the cat is black with a white spot on his chest, say "Black cat with white markings." When people call, ask where the markings are. Make them identify the cat carefully before you return the animal to them.

Any stray should be taken to the vet for a full checkup as soon as you can get your hands on him. Also, do not always assume a cat's horrible condition is due to neglect. That can certainly be the case, but if a beloved, pampered house cat got himself lost, he could look a mess in a week or so.


There are people with the time, inclination, and just plain God-given knack for taming feral—wild—cats. But those folks aren't most folks.

Cats need to be socialized with humans very early in life if they are to accept us. A cat who was not socialized as a kitten feels about as warm and friendly toward you as you would to cuddling up to the average polar bear. Your good intentions aside, feral cats are hard to convince that your hand is for petting, not hurting.

If you are committed to taming such a cat, please read pages 193-194 for more detailed advice on how to do so.

How to Select a Kitten or Cat


Ideally, a kitten has stayed with his mother and litter mates for the first three to four months of his life. He has been handled lovingly and consistently by the humans who care for him and he has been exposed to life indoors, including but not limited to the master in the closet (the vacuum), the storm in a box (dishwasher), and the fully mobile food-dropping furless thing (your toddler).

When you go to see the kittens, look around you. The house should look and smell clean. So should the shelter, if that's where you're going.

If possible meet the mother, as both her genetics and her personality will greatly influence your new friend.

Now to the fun part—meeting the kittens themselves.

First, simply observe quietly. Take note of the one that comes over to you to investigate and greet. Kittens who are naturally attracted to people make the best pets. Young kittens may not be as fascinated by humans as older ones are. Bring along a cat pull toy and you'll see who is active and eager. If the kittens have been properly socialized, they should be happy to be picked up, relaxing quickly in your hands. If they are stiff or panicked when you handle them, skip the litter. There are plenty of kittens in the world.

As heartstring-tugging as the shy one in the corner is, leave him in his corner. A shy kitten will usually mature into a shy adult. And unless you enjoy feeding and scooping the box for a pet you rarely see, skip him. If the whole litter seems wary, pass them all by.

Remember always that this is a commitment of close to two decades. There is no need to select less than your dream kitten. There are literally millions of kittens looking for homes every year. Your ideal friend is out there. Be patient.

Any kitten that runs away, hisses, or cowers in the corner should be skipped. Any kitten that claws or bites when picked up should he skipped. Instead, choose from the many wonderful kittens that seek out your company, and enjoy being handled. Purring when handled is a wonderful sign.

Select a healthy kitten. These are pretty easy to spot. They are active, with a glossy coat, clear eyes, and no nasal discharge. They are lean, neither scrawny nor potbellied. Timing is everything when looking at kittens, as a sleepy kitten should not he mistaken for a lethargic one. Young kittens play hard and sleep hard, as do most young things.


Adult cats can be selected in much the same way. Before you even go to look at a cat, sit down and envision what your perfect companion would act like. Would she be active, always into mischief? Would he be dignified, gazing at you with all-knowing eyes? Would she love people, or be aloof? Get a clear idea of some of the traits you want, and you'll be better able to select accordingly. If you have a hard time imagining what exactly you want, think about the cats you have enjoyed during your life. What traits did they have?

Now you are ready. With adult cats it is easier, because to a certain extent what you see is what you get, with the exception of an in-heat female. An in-heat or pregnant female can be wildly friendly and affectionate. That doesn't mean she will be when she is spayed (because you are spaying her, right?), but it doesn't mean she won't be either.

Choose a cat who behaves as you envision your cat behaving. This is not always easy to tell, especially in a shelter situation when the cat can be frightened and disoriented, but none the less it is a good general rule. If you do find a cat who is friendly, playful, or relaxed in that atmosphere, then you can he sure he truly is that way. He may even be more so once he is home and relaxed.

Common Household Dangers

The old adage Curiosity Killed the Cat still applies to our feline friend today. Cats can get themselves into all kinds of dangerous situations and substances unless we take action to protect them. Luckily, with a little forethought, your home can be made safe for your friend.


Cats adore warm, cozy little spots to curl up in and snooze. Dryers are warm, cozy little spots. Keep clothes dryer doors shut. Give them a quick check before you start them as more than one happily napping cat has met an early demise when the dryer was turned on.


The scrapings from last night's dinner can be a powerful temptation to most any cat or kitten. Keep the compactor closed and always give a quick check before using it.


Select your cleaning products carefully. Cats are particularly subject to household poisonings because of their careful self cleaning. They walk across a wet floor, clean their paws, and consume whatever you cleaned the floor with.


Antifreeze is a terrible poison, made even more horrible by its apparently sweet, appealing taste. Even a small amount can be lethal to your cat. If you even suspect your cat may have drunk some—run to your vet. It is your cat's only chance. As safer antifreezes are being developed, seek them out and use them.


When cats leap and land on the edge of a shelf or table, they put a surprising amount of weight on it at the moment of impact. If the area is unstable, the cat will find himself in trouble. Test your furniture. Press on the edge of it; if it wobbles, fix it. Other unsteady hazards include books and magazines resting so they hang over the edge of a table. The cat, thinking it is stable, leaps up onto those edges and it all tumbles down. Filing cabinets, with the drawers pulled out, can barely he balanced. A cat landing on the drawer could well topple the whole thing over with disastrous results.


Toilet bowl cleaners that hang in the tank are extremely dangerous to animals. We would never use one, a permanently sparkling bowl is hardly worth a seriously ill cat. Instead, we clean the bowl the old-fashioned way, with a brush, some cleaner, and a little elbow grease. Afterward, we keep the lid closed for the first two or three flushes, so we can be sure that the chemical is washed away.


People seem to think that because cats land on their fact that they have some wonderful inborn sense of caution about heights. Wrong! Every year thousands of cats plunge to serious injury or death out of open windows and off balconies. Sure, they land on their feet, but from nineteen stories up, it doesn't help much.

Get good, solid screens for your windows. Even a tiny unscreened opening can pose a hazard for a curious and strong-minded cat.

Do not allow your cat on the balcony at any time. Predatory urges will override the dangers of height. A butterfly or bird will entice many cats to leap, with heartbreaking results. Supervision doesn't matter much when a disaster can happen in a second. Avoid any situation where a single moment of misjudgment can end your cat's life. Get him a safe, indoor window perch and tell him how much better an idea that is.


A snug-fitting fireplace screen is something you'll want to get if you have a new cat or kitten for a variety of reasons. First off, a properly motivated cat, normally one in a high state of panic, can and has climbed up into a chimney. Murphy's law dictates that this will be a white cat and that you will have a white couch near the area that the cat will immediately retreat to when it comes down.

Second, ashes make a lovely litter box alternative. This makes for a novel sensory experience next time you start a fire.

Third, warm ashes can seem like an attractive place to curl up, leading to sore feet or worse.

Last, flames are fascinating to more than a few cats. Protection from all open flames is mandatory.


In the rain or on a cold day, the inside of an automobile engine is a cozy hideaway. If it was recently run, it is even a warm hideaway. The obvious problem is: what if someone turns on the car?

I dealt with that horror as a thirteen-year-old. My mom went to the market, not realizing that she left behind on the driveway our black kitten, Snowball. Snowball had apparently been sitting on the fan belt when the car started. Tattered skin hung off her tiny body.

I remember looking out the window and seeing her. I don't remember getting the laundry basket or lifting her into it. I do remember calling people desperately trying to find someone with a car to take us to the vet.

I learned what death smelled like that day. I will never forget it. Today, I am heartless about scaring cats away from cars. If I see them under one, I toss handfuls of gravel or dirt at them, I bang the hood, I make all kinds of noise, I want them to learn to run when they see a human near a car. Run! It's not a pleasant thing to do, but a lot better for everyone than risking that kind of death.


Oh, what fun these are. They roll, they make great sounds as they skittter around. They are mouth-sized.

What cat could resist their charms? Not many, and that's the problem. They are poisonous. Keep mothballs well away from your cat.


Cats lick and eat things that taste good. Leave a knife you've just carved a roast with on the counter and your cat will likely lick the blade, possibly severely cutting his tongue. Same is true of the blades from the food processor. Leave the steel wool pad you scrubbed the roasting pan with in the sink and don't be surprised if you find it partially eaten. Rinse off knives after their use, store steel wool in a cupboard—take precautions.


Chicken, fish, pork, turkey bones—any small bone that can be easily crunched—will attract your cat. Small bones like this can splinter, causing internal problems if swallowed. Be sure to throw them away in a garbage can your cat can't get into.


Strings make marvelous playthings when you are doing the pulling but become immediately dangerous when swallowed. This is particularly true if the thread the cat consumes has a sewing needle on the end. But needle or not, a piece of string, yarn, or thread can tangle in sour cat's intestines, causing pain, injury and possibly death. When you are away put these things away. If you find a string sticking out of either end of your cat do NOT pull on it. If it is tangled up inside, pulling can cause internal injury. Instead, bundle your cat off to the vet. This is an EMERGENCY.


Cats love anything they can chase. Thumbtacks, particularly the kind with the plastic tops, make wonderful bat-and-pounce toys, at least to your cat. The, potential danger is obvious. Keep these put away. Close your sewing box. Put away your crafts.


Never medicate your cat with a human drug unless directed by your vet to do so. Acetaminophen found in Tylenol and several aspirin-free products can be deadly for a cat. Ibuprofen found in Advil, Nuprin, Motrin, and others is just as toxic for felines. Aspirin itself is dangerous for cats. Beware, pills can kill.

Extend this caution to prescription medications as well. Pills and tablets are a lot of fun for cats to chase, but deadly. Keep the lids on tight and store them in a secure area.


Slamming a heavy door behind you can kill a little kitten and severely injure an adult cat. Always glance back when you shut the door and shut it with care. A kitten eagerly following his best friend on an adventure should not be injured or worse by mistake. See page 180 for instructions on stopping doorway dashers.


Open and close with care. A cat curled up under the sheets or who's climbed up underneath can be hurt if the bed is flung open or slammed shut. Check the bed before closing it and give the couch seat a couple of good whomps before opening it if your cat is nowhere to be seen.


Electric burners can easily burn tender paws. Discouraging your cat from ever being on the stove, not allowing your cat on your counters, and using burner covers all go a long way to preventing a very painful case of hot foot. Keep kettles to the rear of the stove to prevent spilling scalding water.


There are a surprising number of plants that are toxic to cats in one way or another. Here are a few of the more common ones: amaryllis, azalea, bird-of-paradise, cactus, Christmas rose, crown of thorns, calla lilly, caladium, clematis, common box, daffodil, dieffenbachia, dumbcane, foxglove, holly, hydrangea, iris, lily of the valley, mistletoe, morning glory, nettle, philodendron, privet, umbrella plant, wisteria, yews.

This is only a partial list. If you have reason to suspect your cat is sick from eating a plant, grab the cat and a piece of the plant and rush to the vet. Some plants are extremely toxic, others not so toxic—but let your vet decide which is which.

Holiday Hazards

Holidays, a time of family gatherings, strange human behavior, and odd events, can be a dangerous time for your cat for a wide variety of reasons. So wide, in fact, that we are devoting a separate section to them.

Let's cover one general cats and holidays comment before we go into more specific ones. Overindulgence—avoid it. Most of us can't for ourselves, but we should for our pets. That slice of birthday cake, piece of Halloween candy, leftover whipped cream at Thanksgiving may not sit well with your friend. If the urge to share in the festivities is overwhelming, offer up a small piece of lean, unseasoned meat or a simple steamed veggie. Anything more and don't blame us for the vomit on your pillow at 2:00 A.M.

For humans, stress is an inevitable part of holidays and your cat feels it too. Even amid the hustle and bustle of holidays, try to take a few minutes here and there to spend time with a probably pretty confused feline friend. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but a minute or two of quiet stroking and warm words goes a long way to reassuring your companion that all is well.


Anchor that tree! Or put it up in a room that can be easily closed off from the rest of the house. We've seen cats take down a fully decorated tree. What a mess! Tinsel or anything thin, long and swallowable is dangerous. Be careful about the ornament hooks, don't leave any lying around. Light cords can be fun to chew, at least apparently if you are a cat. Investing a couple of dollars in some anti-chew sprays available at virtually every pet supply store is well worth it. Spray generously on the cords before you put up the lights. (Slide newspaper under the cord when you spray, as these sprays can have an alcohol base which may damage some surfaces.) Tape the cords to the wall from the socket to the tree to avoid tempting, tangling cords. Unplugging the lights when they are not in use will also help avoid various kinds of mishaps.

Breakable ornaments are, of course, the most dangerous. The best protection is making sure the ornaments are hung securely. If they can't he knocked off easily they won't break as often. Using small pieces of wire that you can twist onto the branches works well. Green twist ties are easy to use, blend in with the tree well, and most of us have mass quantities of these stuffed in our kitchen drawers.

Several of the traditional Christmas plants like mistletoe and holly are toxic to cats. Keep them well away from your furry friends and check the list of toxic plants for other potential dangers.


More than a few cats are fascinated with candle flames. Not only can they burn themselves but knocking over the menorah is a strong possibility. Put the menorah in a catproof room or an unreachable shelf. As an extra measure anchor it well. Better safe than not.


Keep him inside! Even outdoor cats should be kept in during this holiday, particularly if your companion is black. There are plenty of twisted people who consider harassing cats on this day amusing. Since the front door will be opened and closed often, set him up in a room with all his creature comforts. Then put a sign on the door saying "Don't Open!" With his food, water, litter box, and bed around him, he'll spend a quiet evening napping, instead of getting loose, being frightened by costumes, and running the risk of being a victim of cruelty.

A word of caution here: chocolate is toxic to cats. In fact, just a few ounces can kill a small cat. Keep it away from them.


Another keep-him-indoors holiday. Fireworks frighten many animals and, again, people with a mean streak may find it funny to throw firecrackers at your cat. Hard to believe but happens every year. Add a radio or TV on low to his private area so the sounds can help drown out the noise from outside.


One of my favorite cat-versus-the-holiday memories is one Thanksgiving when my cat Licorice ate the breast out of the family turkey as it sat cooling on the counter. My mother, an unshakable sort, simply flipped the bird over and served it anyway.

Such things can happen, especially with a house full of guests opening and closing doors all the time. Before I start to cook, I set the cats up in their own room with all the necessities, put a sign on the door, and get on with the preparations. This way the cat stays safe, the meal is less hectic—which at Thanksgiving is always a blessing—and I don't have to worry about the cat running outside when Uncle Leon runs out to the car "one last time"

Do not give the leftover turkey carcass to your cat. The meat is a fine treat but cooked bones are brittle and can harpoon your cat's insides. When you do throw away the bones, take the trash straight outside into a covered, catproof trash can. Take no chances.

What You'll Need


The best bowls for food and water are stainless steel or ceramic. These are both easy to clean, dishwasher safe, and last a long time. We use stainless steel exclusively as they don't break. In our house that is always a plus.

Plastic is not a good choice. Plastic wears and as the edges get rough bacteria hide in crevices. This bacteria may irritate your cat's skin causing a rash or acne. Skip the difficulties and get another kind of bowl.

For our cats we use small bowls that hold about one cup or slightly more. These are easy to wash and handle as well as allowing me to be pretty precise about feeding amounts. A larger bowl almost always leads me to putting more in the bowl than the cat needs because the portion looks so small in the bigger howl. The only time we use a larger bowl is for water when we have more than one cat in the house. We like to encourage drinking, so we make sure we have water available to them constantly.

Two bowls is all you need per cat, but we buy more than that so we can have a few in use while the others are being washed.


Toys come in all shapes and sizes. Any toys that involve chasing and pouncing are pretty much universal favorites. The instinct to hunt is strong in our felines, giving them an outlet prevents problems from developing.

There are many tried and true cat toys in your house at this very moment. For a listing of these, please turn to pages 66-68.


Depending on the type of coat your new cat has, the grooming supplies you need will vary. A comb is an excellent tool for combing out a long haired cat. A fine toothed comb works well for removing dead hair from any length cat coat.

We use flea combs extensively with our cats with good success. A flea comb has teeth so close together that fleas get combed out as you go along. They are then deposited in a dish of soapy water where they drown, an event we do not mourn.

A coat conditioner spray is nice to have around especially in the winter when static electricity can make grooming a pain for all concerned.

Along with the combs and brushes, speak to your vet about dental care. Many of us aren't used to thinking about dental care for our cats and dogs, yet routine preventive care makes a big difference in your cat's overall health and well-being.


A good pair of feline nail clippers and their regular use can prevent a lot of damage around your home. Large toenail clippers, especially made cat nail clippers, or small guillotine type clippers all work well. Personally we like the small scissors type of clipper, finding them easy to use.


Bitter Apple is a product made to discourage chewing. Basically, it tastes bad to the cat. Being responsive to the common cat problem (actually owner problem, the behavior doesn't bother the cat at all!) of eating household plants, Bitter Apple has developed a spray that can be applied directly to the leaves. It's a good product.


Mistakes sometimes happen. Your cat may vomit. Or miss his box. If this happens, you want to he prepared. Nothing does the job, and we mean nothing, like a specially made pet stain-removing product. Get some. You'll be glad you did.


Velcro can he bought in rolls, circles, tabs—buy whatever you need. Use it to secure vases, lamps, bookends, and other easily knock-downable items to their tables and shelves. An ounce of prevention is worth fifteen minutes of cleaning up.


Used in the same way as Velcro, to attach objects to their attendant surfaces.


This is a luxury, but one your cat will enjoy. Most cats love to bask in the sun. Setting up a spot by a sun window for this purpose will please most cats. There are premade perches that rest against the sill and the wall, requiring little mechanical know-how to install. As our bedroom window faces south, we just make sure the curtains are open so the sun hits our bed. Both cats congregate there, following the sun across our king-sized mattress.


About one half to two thirds of cats respond to catnip. The rest show no interest in it whatsoever. But if your cat is one of those who enjoy a good roll in the herb, keep a supply on hand. We have a small pouch of it in the freezer. Every few weeks we take it out and give some to our cats. Ben likes it okay, Emily is wild for it.

Catnip is a nice way for cats to relax and release some steam. We don'trecommend giving it to a cat in an aggressive mood as it can be a disinhibitor for aggression, making incidents more likely, not less. But it can be a help to some cats with aggressive tendencies caused by stress and/or boredom, if given when they are calm.


A good cat carrier is one of the best pieces of safety equipment you can get for your cat. A cat in a carrier is a safe cat whether traveling by car, airplane, bus, taxi, or train. That being the case, getting the right carrier is an important investment in your pet's safety. Let's go over them one type at a time.


Often given out by vets or animal shelters as the trip-home container. Use them once, if you must, then get a good one. A determined cat can claw his way out of one in no time. Believe us that trying to hold a frightened cat who's half in and half out of a carrier is no fun for anyone.


Cute, trendy even fashionable but not effective. Some soft-sided carriers are not self-supporting, and having a carrier collapse on the animal is scary for them. Those soft sides also do not protect you adequately from claws. And lastly, they offer the animal no protection if they tumble off a seat or something slides into or onto it. Cleaning it after a kitty accident is no fun and good luck getting your cat in!


The last thing your frightened cat needs is to feel exposed and helpless. A frightened cat wants to hide, and the wire crates offer them no such option. Wire sides don't offer you much protection from the angry paw either.


Bingo! Here's the one and only winner! One of these will last a kitty lifetime and beyond. Sturdy, secure, protected, cozy, easy to clean—the best and only choice in our opinion. If you would like to know how to teach your cat to get into his carrier willingly, please see pages 104-106. It doesn't have to be a battle.

Scratching Posts

A scratching post is as personal a feline choice as a razor or hairbrush is for you. Cats have a wide variety of preferences, so let's go over some of the most commonly available feline favored versions. New ones are always coming out but the good ones usually have these features.

First off they are sturdy. Cats are not fans of posts that move. So a good scratching object stays put when the cat uses it. For this reason, most hang-from-the-doorknob products are not as universally accepted as sturdy floor or wall models.

Secondly, they need to be tall or long enough. If you want to know what height is best, measure one of your cat's favorite scratching spots. That's his idea of perfect so why fight it? If your pet is new, measure the height of your couch. That's usually a pretty good guess. Oh, and don't throw the post out when it starts to get tattered and shredded. Like an old pair of favorite jeans, scratching posts are just getting good when they start too look bad.

Besides height, it has to be the right material. Here are a few common coverings:


Emily loves her cardboard unit. She likes to sit on it and scratch. She's a leather, cork bulletin board, vinyl scratcher, so cardboard works pretty well for her. These little rectangles are inexpensive (especially compared to a leather chair!) and widely available through mail order and pet supply stores.


Ben is the carpet king in our house. We have a three-story kitty condo that he loves and that's his choice for scratching. That way when he reaches up, he will often take a moment before or after a good scratch to lean back for a good, slow stretch.


An old favorite cat post covering and one cats have been enjoying for years. My only complaint about them is that the roping is usually wrapped around horizontally and the scientific evidence points to cats preferring vertically run materials to scratch. They like to drag their claws downward, shredding the material. The more shred, the happier the cat. However, regardless of how the material runs, millions of cats have used and adored the sisal posts.


Many cats, not surprisingly, love bark and wood. Some cats enjoy using a piece of lumber, others like a log or branch brought in from outside. Finding a log is certainly easy, just be sure that it is not rotten or bug-laden when you bring it in. Whichever you select, anchor it firmly to a wall or stand so that it doesn't wobble or fall.

Litter Boxes and Cat Litter

Here are the most important items for your continued happy relationship with your feline friend. If this equipment is to his liking, all will go smoothly. If it is not, watch for the wet spots!


Boxes range in size and depth. Generally, the larger the box the better, especially if you have a male kitten. You'd be surprised how big he may grow to be, so plan accordingly.

With cat litter boxes there are two basic options: covered or uncovered. Covered boxes can be a godsend to the owners of cats that spray in the box, squat on the edge while urinating or defecating outside the box, kick up a lot of litter, or have a discreet nature when nature calls. They also can help deter the feline-feces-finding Fido.

Covered boxes are bad in only two circumstances. One, if out of sight is out of mind for you. We've seen more covered boxes than we care to remember piled so high with excrement that we could not imagine where the cat stepped when it entered the box. The other is if your cat won't use it. We have seen a couple of very high-sided boxes with doors cut in the front. These look great for cats and their owners who would benefit from a covered box but where the feline declines to use it. Such items are advertised in most cat magazines which are listed in the Bilbliography and Reources Section.

If your cat squats to urinate, doesn't kick litter everywhere, and is not shy about using the box, then you probally don't need a covered one. The choice is completely up to you and your cat.


It seems that every year new litter box products come on the market. Which one, of the many, is right for your cat? Mostly, that is up to your cat. If he uses it, it's the right one. Here for your information are some of the pluses and minuses of some of the litters available.


An age-old favorite, normally easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and widely acceptable to cats, these are fine products. On the downside, it is heavy and some brands also have a tendency to be dusty which is not good for your cat.

Without getting into too much detail, let it be said that clays do differ from area to area and brand to brand so if you and your cat really like one, stick to it. Don't assume all clay litters are the same.


These are touted as making litter box maintenance a breeze. We are told the cat's urine will form a sccopable hall that's easy to lift right out of the box and dispose of. No urine, no odor, no need to change the litter weekly.

We used this litter—briefly. Our neutered male, Ben, had not read the directions on the package. When he urinated, he flooded a corner of the box, making not one lovely little ball but a urine mass that broke up when we tried to scoop it out. If our timing was off, the lumps were also broken up when Emily used the box. Because these litters are extremely fine, the pieces that broke off fell through the scoop. The odor problem was lessened slightly, but we still needed to change the box regularly. And that posed our next problem. This stuff is like cement. Washing the box is a pain because you can't get it out, and then all the particles solidify in the sink. Which is difficult to handle and, we worry, none too good for our pipes. We were not impressed so we never bought it again.

In its defense, I know many cats and owners that swear by the stuff. Your choice, but either way, it isn't the discovery of the century it is touted to be.


All of these are biodegradable, most are flushable in reasonable amounts, lightweight, and absorbent—not bad.

Many of these have a pleasant odor to them. Some are more easily tossed around by a digging cat. All have their pluses and minuses.



Great idea! Certainly a go for owners of declawed cats, but our cats tore holes in them as they dug to cover their leavings. Maybe yours won't. Certainly worth a try.


In short, if your cat's box stinks—clean it. Deodorants give folks the impression that if they just sprinkle some of this in there everything is okay. Not true. Skip this product, just do the work.


Love them. Wouldn't have a cat without one or more. We get the biggest one we can find and keep it right next to the box. Makes our life simple and keeps the cat box clean.

When I was working in the pet supply store once, a nice, older Spanish-speaking woman came in. She went around the store obviously looking for something, spied the scoop and started asking me all kinds of questions in Spanish. Unfortunately, I don't understand Spanish. So after a few minutes of mutual frustration, I called a friend who was fluent and handed the customer the phone. She spoke for a few moments, made a few surprised sounds. nodded, handed back the phone and left. When I picked up the phone, my friend was still laughing. Turns out the woman was looking for a pasta spoon and had mistaken the litter box scoops for them.

Only in New York.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cats always land on their feet?

Not always, but a lot more than you or I would. Cats have a wonderful sense of balance. A survival feature no doubt that nature selected for in this naturally climbing species. But how do they do it?

Cats land on their feet due to a tiny chamber inside their ear that communicates the animal's head position to the brain very precisely. This allows the cat to always know where its head is in relationship to the ground. Once his head is right side up, his body normally follows.

I've heard that cats had something to do with the Black Plague. Is this true?

Absolutely. During that period, cats were persecuted as being the animal sign of the devil. Believing that, people hunted down and killed cats in great numbers—mostly drowning them or burning them alive. As the feline population diminished, rodents enjoyed a boom in numbers seldom seen before or since. With those furry hordes came uncountable fleas that carried the plague with them. When those fleas infested homes throughout Europe, much of the European population died a slow, grisly death.

Feline retribution, perhaps?

My friend says there is a breed of cat with short legs like a Dachshund. Is that true?

It's true. They are called the Munchkin cat. A genetic mutation started this breed, as it has many others. It is a controversial cat, as some people argue that encouraging what they consider to be deformity will lead to health problems down the road. Others argue that uniqueness is not necessarily a bad thing. Our thought on the matter is that the further away an animal is from what nature intended it to be, the more health problems you are likely to run into.

My Persian seems to breathe funny, almost like snoring. Is that normal?

Normal for a cat, or normal for a Persian? Because of their shortened nose, some Persians do have breathing problems. If you have concerns, ask your vet about it.

My last cat never scratched anything, but my new kitten is climbing all over. Is he just a bad kitten?

Your kitten is a normal, healthy, red-blooded kitten. Sometimes as an older cat matures, it is hard to remember the antics they went through as a kitten. In rare instances, kittens aren't particularly active but that would cause me to run to the vet. A well-behaved kitten is not the norm and if you actually had one, don't ever expect to have one again. Your new kitten isn't bad. He's just normal: needing supervision, directed play, and confinement. Age will mellow him. It mellows all of us.

My cat lies down on every book I read, how can I stop this? It's cute but makes it hard to get through a chapter.

Cat joke. Be consistent and firm about removing your cat and he'll get the idea. If he's persistent about it, use a quick blast from a can of pressurized air. That will work without disturbing the quiet of the moment.

My kitten likes to chase flies, is this okay?

In general, fly chasing is a natural and harmless occupation even if your kitten is successful in his efforts. The only time we would curtail this is if we had just sprayed with some sort of heavy-duty pesticide that we didn't want our kitten consuming in even small amounts. However, we don't use such toxic chemicals around our house and can't imagine using a household chemical so toxic that a fly's amount could hurt the kitten. That would be some pretty scary stuff. In that case, surely the cure is worse than the disease! Nonetheless, we state it here for the record: read all warnings on pesticides and herbicide products before you use them.

Why does my cat seem to gravitate to my friends who least like cats?

A classic question, a classic cat behavior. Even aloof cats seem to relish the entrapment of felinephobes. If the poor person is allergic, the cat is likely to be particularly persistent. Why? We believe it is because cats have a twisted sense of humor.

Why is my cat's tongue rough?

Your cat's rough-surfaced tongue has many useful purposes. Since cats are self-cleaning creatures, a rough tongue gives them a built-in miniature scrub brush for working on stubborn dirt. It also is an excellent loose hair remover—a mixed blessing for your cat. It helps get the dead hair out of the coat, but then the cat may swallow a large amount of it and develop a hairball.

Drinking is facilitated by that tongue as well, as those bumps are like hundreds of tiny little cups that help bring water into the cat.

And lastly, but certainly not of least importance for wild felines, that rough surface helps them lick the last morsel of flesh off large bones. Don't give your cat bones please, but for the wild cat it serves that function. Pretty amazing bit of physiology, huh?

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