Slug Slime, Spider Webs, and Our Pets’ Behavior Issues

This morning I took my cat Phoebe outside for some outdoor time.  She was on her harness and leash as usual in such situations.  While she happily sniffed around bushes and trees, I sat on the steps leading down from our deck.  I noticed a sparkling, curvy streak of shine on the hard red clay that serves as topsoil in our back yard.  It was beautiful as it glistened in the sun.  Upon closer inspection it became clear that the streak was a slug’s slime trail.  It got me thinking.  I have been completely grossed out by slime trails I accidentally put my hand on when I didn’t notice them on our front porch railing, but this slime trail was a thing of beauty when I saw it.  The same is true of spider webs.   I often walk through unseen spider webs when I take Phoebe out in our back yard.  I generally freak out, try to remove the spider web from whatever body part it has clung to, and frantically run my fingers through my hair and over my shoulders to brush out any spiders that may have ended up there.  If I see a spider web back lit by the morning sun and covered in dew, however, it’s a completely different experience.  I am awed by its intricate beauty and delicate strength.  Perspective is everything.

It’s true of life’s difficulties as well.  Any life coach or business coach will tell you that you’ve got to reframe experiences and beliefs to make them work for you.  I’ve always balked at the notion because it felt like lying to myself.  The slug slime trail taught me it was possible to simply see things from a different perspective and to feel a different way about them simply because of that different perspective.  The beauty of the slug slime trail and spider web are the truth as much as their other aspects are.   Wherever there is conflict or difficulty, there is an opportunity to try a new perspective.

This is true of our pets’ behavior issues, too.  Instead of thinking of behavior issues as our pets’ being willful or spiteful or mean, which can result in a power struggle between us and our pets, we can choose to see them as opportunities to understand what our pets are trying to communicate to us about how they feel or what they need so that we can help them.  That’s exactly what is happening when your cat urinates on your bath mat or your dog chews up your slippers.  They’re asking for help.   If you’d like to know what your pet is trying to tell you, give me a call.   I’ll use knowledge acquired through research, experience gained through years of working with pets, and insight provided through intuition to figure out what your pet needs.  Then we’ll work together to improve your pet’s behavior by addressing those needs.

The Basics on Scratchers for Cats

Today I’m going to answer some questions about scratchers for cats.

1) If I have a cat, do I need a scratcher?

Well, if you want your furniture to remain unharmed, it’s a good idea.  Scratching things is a natural behavior in cats.  In the wild they scratch on tree trunks and fallen logs in order to show other animals where their territory is through scratch marks and scent from scent glands in their paws.  Scratching also rids cats’ claws of the dead exterior layer of the claw and allows cats to stretch and to flex their muscles, all of which feels good.

2) What is a scratcher?

A scratcher is just something intended to be scratched on by cats.  There are all kinds of professionally-manufactured scratchers.  There is the tried-and-true scratching post, which is generally a wooden post wrapped in carpet or rope and attached to a weighted base.  The natural version of the scratching post is a section of a tree trunk attached to a base.  These types of scratching posts come in different heights.  A scratching post can also be built into a cat tower or cat tree.  (My cat, Phoebe, likes to scratch on the trunk of her natural cat tree that has three resting platforms.)  There are also scratch pads that you can attach with Velcro to a vertical surface such as a wall.

Scratchers can be horizontal as well, and they come in a variety of styles.  There is the scratching circle made of corrugated cardboard that snaps into a plastic base with a track running around the edge.  This type of scratcher comes with a ball to add to the track so your cat can amuse himself batting it around and around.   Horizontal scratchers can also have a rectangular frame and a flat, wavy, or slanted corrugated cardboard scratching surface.  Nowadays there are fancy scratchers that look like horizontal figure eights that your cat can lie down on if he gets tired scratching and step-in scratchers, which are essentially low-walled boxes with corrugated cardboard bottoms that your cat can scratch or curl up on, depending on his mood.

3) Can I make my own scratcher?

If you’re handy with a saw, a box cutter, a hammer, and a staple gun, you sure can.  Just make sure all scratching surfaces are safely covered so your cat’s paws don’t get splinters.

4) How do I know which kind of scratcher to get for my cat?

If you’ve had your cat for a while but haven’t provided a scratcher, he has probably chosen some surfaces on his own.  If you’ve noticed him scratching on your carpet or on a sisal door mat, for example, a horizontal scratcher of some sort is a good choice.  (My cat, Sammy, loves to scratch on sisal door mats.  I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that the mats do double duty now.)  Try to pick a scratcher that matches the scratching surface your cat has already shown he likes.

If you’ve noticed your cat scratching on a vertical surface, like a door frame or the back of your couch, a scratching post is a good choice.  You want your cat to be able to stretch up fully while standing on his hind legs, so choose a scratching post that’s tall enough for him to do so.

If you just got your cat and he hasn’t had a chance to scratch on any surfaces in your home, it’s good to buy a variety of scratchers.  You’ll see pretty quickly what he prefers and will know what to get in the future.  You can donate whatever he doesn’t use to your local animal shelter.

5) How many scratchers do I need to provide for my cat?

It’s a good idea to have one in each room he spends a good deal of time in.

6) How do I get my cat to use the scratcher I’ve provided?

Try spraying some catnip spray on the scratcher or sprinkle some of the herb itself on it.  If that doesn’t work, energy therapy with an emphasis on clearing the energy of old habits and communicating ideal behavior can help.

The Benefits of Safe Outdoor Time for Your Pets

One of the benefits of the COVID-19 virus’ being less problematic in outdoor spaces is that lots of people who didn’t use to spend time outdoors are hitting the hiking trails and enjoying their backyards, decks, and patios more.  The wonderful thing is that spending time in nature is good for your health, and it’s good for your pets’ health, too. 

Most dogs automatically get to spend some time outdoors every day because that’s where their bathroom is.  That’s also where they go to get exercise.  (I know some dogs walk on treadmills, but I’m guessing most still take their walks the old-fashioned way.)   It’s good for dogs to spend that time in nature.  It clears non-beneficial energy from their energy fields and helps them to be more grounded (more connected to the energy of the earth).  It also allows them to use their senses–to smell new smells, to hear new sounds, to see new sights, and to feel the dirt or grass under their paws–all of which combats boredom, which can prevent misbehavior. 

Cats benefit from going outside as well and for the same reasons.  My cat Phoebe loves her time outdoors.  It lets her feel like a wild cat for a little while.  She stalks birds, squirrels, butterflies and lizards, and she climbs trees and rolls in the dirt.  She does all this without actually harming any other living creatures because she is on a harness and leash, which brings me to my next point.

It’s important for your pets to be safe outdoors.  You have to make sure that if your pet is not on a harness and leash and under your direct supervision, that he or she is in an enclosed outdoor space from which escape is impossible and which prevents other animals from causing your pet harm.   For small dogs and for cats, this  means some form of fenced area with a roof on it so that hawks and other predatory birds cannot get to them.  For larger dogs, this means an area enclosed by a fence that they cannot jump over, break through, or dig under.  While I understand that dog parents might like them for aesthetic reasons, I’m not a big fan of underground electric fences since I don’t like the idea of a dog receiving a shock and since I know that large dogs will break through them if sufficiently motivated.  There are a variety of professionally-manufactured dog runs and “catios” to be found on-line, as well as companies that will come to your house and design an enclosure to suit your needs and style preferences.  If you’re handy with a hammer and saw, you could build yourself something.  Whatever you choose, just be sure to get the approval of your homeowners association before you put up any structures visible to your neighbors.  

Another aspect of making sure your pet is safe outdoors is being aware of the outdoor temperature.  Just because they are animals doesn’t mean our pets can survive all weather conditions.  If you live someplace really hot, be sure to provide lots of water for your pet and make sure your pet’s outdoor space has a roof to protect your pet from the sun and has a fan to help cool him down.  If you live someplace cold, make sure your pet’s outdoor enclosure has an insulated “house” of some sort.  In either case, don’t leave your pet outdoors for an extended period of time in extreme weather.

If you don’t have an outdoor space to enclose but would like your cat to be able to go outside, you could consider a window box–an enclosed platform attached to the outside of the residence that is accessible via an open window.  I’d buy something professionally manufactured or have a professional build it for you.  The idea of a poorly-built window box hanging off a third-floor window gives me the heebie-jeebies. 

If you don’t want a window box, it is also possible to train a cat to wear a harness and leash.  The long way involves putting the harness on her while indoors and creating a trail of cat treats to get her to take a few steps while wearing the harness.  Add the leash and extend the trail.  You’d want to do the training over several sessions, increasing the amount your cat was walking on the harness and leash incrementally.  Then you’d need to see if she wanted to go outdoors.  Energy therapy can facilitate the training process, so contact me if you’d like some help.

The question is “Is going outdoors right for all pets?”  The short answer is “No.”  If your pet is anxious by nature and has spent her whole life indoors, suddenly making her go outside will only cause her fear.   Cats do fine indoors as long as they have sufficient mental stimulation and the opportunity to exercise and use their predatory instincts in their indoor environment.   (See my blog post about playing with your cat for more information about that.)  If you have an anxious or fearful dog who has no choice but to go outside, energy therapy can help with the anxiety and fear.  Contact me if you’d like some help.  

May you and your pet enjoy some outdoor time and may it improve your health.

The Lesson of the Ironing Board

Not too long ago I was reminded of a simple fact: cats don’t care too much for change, especially if they don’t initiate it. I have two cats at this time. Phoebe has always been pretty bold. When we first took her in as a 10-month old, she acted like she owned the place. Our other cats at the time were both male and fourteen years old. She was unafraid of them and did her best to boss them around. Since then, we’ve moved to a new house, her older “brothers” have passed away, and she has a new older “brother” named Sammy.  She’s not afraid of him either. Her naturally-bold nature was why I was concerned when, a while back, she started spending all her time upstairs in the cat room or hiding in the master bedroom. I feared she might be in pain or was sick or that she had been scared by seeing another cat in the yard, but it turned out that the culprit was much less dramatic. 

What had her hiding was the ironing board that I had set up when doing a craft project. I knew she didn’t care for the screeching noise that it makes when the legs are extended and locked into place (Heck, I hate that noise myself!), but I didn’t realize that the mere presence of the ironing board long after the screeching had ceased would be enough to keep her out of all rooms from which it could be viewed. I put the ironing board away, and she went back to being her bold and happy self, padding about all over the house like the tiny tiger she seems to feel she is.

That the ironing board could be such a problem for even a naturally-fearless cat drove home the fact for me that cats are creatures of habit.  I noticed that there was something wrong in the first place because Phoebe had deviated from her usual routine. After breakfast she normally naps in her bed in the cat room. The afternoons are spent lounging in the living room on the back of her favorite overstuffed armchair or on the windowsill of one of the windows she likes to look through to survey her domain. In the evening she generally enjoys the view from the top shelf of her cat tree in the living room, although she likes looking out the windows at night as well. She does, of course, take time out from resting to eat and play, but there’s even a routine for the eating, and her internal clock knows exactly when she is supposed to be fed. Routines help cats to feel safe because they know what to expect and what is expected of them when, so a change to a cat’s routine or a change to his environment can cause him stress.

Cats’ dislike of change is an important fact to remember when you’re decorating for the holidays, doing some rearranging, or getting new furniture. Your cat may take a while to adjust. Energy therapy can help with that adjustment by relieving anxiety and facilitating understanding of the situation.  I hope the Lesson of the Ironing Board sheds light on a situation you may be experiencing in your own home.   As always, I’m happy to help unravel the mystery and help your cat feel his best.

Why and How to Play with Your Cat

Hi, everyone.  This is my first blog post ever!  I’m so excited!  I’d like to talk to you about playing with your cat.  While cats do often play with toys by themselves and can even turn miscellaneous objects into toys (plastic milk jug rings and lids, pipe cleaners, and hair ties, for example) there are several good reasons for you to play interactively with your cat.  First of all, if you do it right, it improves your cat’s mental, emotional, and physical health.  Paying attention to the direction and speed of the toy as it moves through the air, across the ground, or over furniture so that she can plan her attack keeps your cat’s mind sharp.  The toy’s sound–a crinkle, a jingle, a flutter, a rasp–and its smell (perhaps catnip, treats, or an appropriate essential oil) provide sensory stimulation and pique your cat’s interest, and the feel of the toy in her paws and teeth once she has caught it is so satisfying.   Playing engages her predatory instincts, which helps your cat remember her purpose and improves her self-confidence.  The running, jumping, and diving your cat does when playing burns calories, too, and helps to maintain her muscle tone.  Put simply, playing helps keep your cat healthy.  Another benefit is that playing with your cat can have a big impact on her behavior as well.  Oftentimes, cats become destructive because they are bored or feel neglected.  Playing interactively with your cat fifteen to thirty minutes a day will help her release pent-up energy as she tears up toys and will take her mind off of your couch or curtains or other possessions.  It will also improve your emotional bond with her because she’ll feel loved as you spend time focused on her.  The improved self-confidence that interactive play can engender can also change the dynamics between multiple cats in a household.  When timid cats gain self-confidence through play, aggressive cats find them less interesting to harass.  The cool thing is that playing with your cat is beneficial to you as well!  In addition to forcing you to exercise your own body a bit, it helps you lighten up and forget about your concerns for a little while, all of which helps manage your stress level.  It’s a win-win situation.

I believe we’ve established that playing with your cat is important.  HOW you play with your cat is important, too.  When you play with your cat, it should enable your cat to mimic the hunting she would do if on her own in the outdoors.  The kind of toy you use will have an impact on the way you should move it.  For interactive play, it is best to use a toy attached to a string that is tied to a long handle.  You want the string to be long enough so that your cat is not distracted by your hand as you move the toy around.  She should notice only the toy.  If your toy is long and slinky, pretend it’s a snake and move it around accordingly; make it slither in a sort of serpentine pattern and make it stop amidst items lying on the floor.  Think of a snake slithering along and then stopping to rest nestled into or on top of some rocks.  If the toy’s a mouse, make it move along the edges of carpet and around furniture legs.  Mice try not to run across the middle of open fields where a predator can see them with ease.  I usually make mouse toys alternate between running and hiding.  Real mice are good jumpers, so your mouse toy can jump over things and up onto things as well.  If you have a bird-type toy, keep it in the air a good bit of the time and get your cat leaping.  After your cat has been active for about twenty minutes, make the toy prey slow down for a few minutes and then seem injured so that your cat can have the satisfaction of “killing” it.   There are a couple of things to keep in mind about your cat when you play with her.  Her vision is not very good up close.  She can, however, detect movement well, so she can see the toy more easily when it is on the move than she can if it is sitting still.  Cats use their hearing and sense of smell to help them pinpoint prey in the wild, so enhancing the toy with something that makes noise or produces an odor is helpful.  Don’t forget that cats are ambush hunters.  If your cat doesn’t try to chase the toy when you first start playing, don’t give up!  She’s just waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.  Keep moving the toy prey around, and she’ll eventually go for it.  Finally, move the toy prey across in front of your cat or away from her, not toward her.  No mouse, bird, snake, or bunny in its right mind would run toward a cat, and it would certainly not jump on her.

If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll post some videos of me demonstrating how to make simple and cheap toys you can use when playing with your cat.  I’ll try to post some video clips of me playing with my clients’ cats as well in order to demonstrate some of the concepts above.  In the meantime, I hope you’ve found this article helpful.  Enjoy playing with your cat!

Kelly's Cat Sitting and Care, LLC