Today’s better educated owners are growing increasingly picky about what they feed their pet, and manufacturers have been quick to respond with a wide range of foods geared towards this market. Choosing a good kibble for your dog doesn’t always seem easy. The labels on the packages appear designed to confuse, and beyond identifying whether a food is chicken or lamb based, people often come away feeling they need a science degree to decipher the rest.
But how much do we really know about what we’re feeding our dogs and cats? While an ingredient may sound good and conjure up images of plump juicy meats, you need to be aware that the definition of what constitutes that ingredient can be quite different. We can help give you an overview of what we think you should be looking for in a good quality dry food. Most of the major dog and cat food companies are divisions of giant food conglomerates-that produce tons of offal and by products from the manufacture of human foods. Using this material that would otherwise be garbage may be good business sense-but is it good for your pet?
Learning to decipher labels is a good beginning for those of us who wish to discover just what exactly we are feeding our pets. Look at the top 5 or so ingredients-these form the major portion of the food. The ingredients in dog and cat food are required to be listed in order of weight. That means the 1st ingredient on the list is the one with the greatest volume in the food. This should be a named meat source-i.e. chicken, beef, lamb, etc. Within the top 5 ingredients we would like to see a minimum of 2 named meat sources, preferably exclusive of their water content-in other words, in ‘meal’ form. The next thing we will look for is a food that contains a few grains as possible. Grains are not a natural source of food for dogs or especially cats and are often indigestible and common allergens. Whole ground grains such as barley, oatmeal and rice are far better than low quality grains such as corn, wheat and soy.
Do not forget to look at the preservatives used. BHT, BHA, Propylene glycol and Ethoxyquin are considered to be carcinogenic and are banned or heavily regulated in the human food industry and should be avoided at all costs. Citric acid can be problematic when used as a preservative as it can dramatically increase the incidence of bloat if food is moistened before feeding. Ideally, kibble is preserved with tocopherols, ascorbic acid (Vitamin E) or anti-oxidants such as rosemary extract. Kibble without artificial color, flavor or sweetener is preferable.
Toys & Kitty Condos
There are many factors that contribute to the safety or danger of a toy. Many of those factors, however, are completely dependent upon your cat’s size, activity level and personal preference. Another factor to be considered is the environment in which your cat spends her time. Although we can’t guarantee your cat’s enthusiasm or her safety with any specific toy, we can offer the following guidelines.
The things that are usually the most attractive to cats are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Cat-proof your home by checking for: string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, plastic milk jug rings, paper clips, pins, needles, and anything else that could be ingested. All of these items are dangerous, no matter how cute your cat may look when she’s playing with them.
Avoid any toys that aren’t “cat-proof” by removing ribbons, feathers, strings, eyes, or other small parts that could be chewed and/or ingested.
Soft toys should be machine washable. Check labels for child safety, as a stuffed toy that’s labeled as safe for children under three years old, doesn’t contain dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads. Also, rigid toys are not as attractive to cats.
Cats don’t really need much in the way of special furniture, but they do have some needs that can best be met by items designed especially for cats.
The two things cats love to do more than anything are be in high places and look out of windows! A cat perch is the one item that can provide your cat with the comfort and pleasure she deserves.
Some cat perches are “window perches” and are designed to attach to a window inside your home. They are usually quite easy to install. This popular item for cats has the benefit of giving your cat some elevation and entertainment at the same time!
Cat trees and kitty condos come in all different shapes and sizes, and can serve many purposes. They are usually carpeted and provided your cat with at least a couple of shelves, and a post for scratching. Some have little cat houses with holes for your cat to hang out in.
A kitty condo or a cat tree is a great item that can serve as your cat’s bed and scratching post all in one.
And it also provides the high elevation kitties seem to love. The higher the better!
Cats are naturally clean creatures. Teaching them to use the litter box encourages this inherent instinct. Most kittens and cats easily learn to use their litter box … and they will usually continue to use it unless it gets too dirty. Here are a few tips to help your kitty along:
Place the litter box in a clean, relatively quiet and accessible location.
Keep it away from high-traffic areas and be sure your cat has access to it any time she needs it. Be sure to keep the litter box out of reach of children as well as the other animals in the household.
Show kitty where it is.
Place her in the box and let her sniff. Some people have found it useful to rake their fingers through the litter to show their cat what they want her to do.
If you have more than one cat, consider a separate litter box for each.
Cats generally don’t like to eliminate in the same place as other cats.
Keep the litter box clean.
Scoop out soiled litter daily, and change the entire box every week, putting in fresh litter. You can wash out the box with a solution of water and vinegar to help reduce the odor, and then add a little baking soda to the litter itself. An inch and a half of fresh litter is usually plenty.
Don’t place her litter box near her food and water.
Cats don’t like to eliminate where they eat.
Clean any accidents immediately.
If kitty does have an accident, clean the area right away with a half and half solution of white vinegar and water. This will help to eliminate the odor and hopefully prevent kitty from returning to that spot.
Never punish your cat for having an accident.
Do not strike her or rub her nose in the mess; instead, firmly say “No!”, then place her in her litter box and praise her there.
A common concern among potential cat owners is how do I get my kitten to scratch at his scratching post and not the sofa? The answer is part persistence, and part cat psychology! Scratching is normal feline behavior, its part exercise and part “marking” behavior. Your cat stretches, has a nice vigorous scratch, and leaves the spot marked as “his”. It also helps to rid the claws of old, shedded layers, but doesn’t sharpen the claws, as many people believe.
Start training while she is still a kitten, if possible. Scratching behavior begins about the time that your kitten is being weaned! Older cats can be trained too but may require longer, especially if they were not conditioned to using a scratching post before. Just be persistent, gentle but firm.
Choose a post that appeals to your cat.
Each kitten has his own preferences, and you may have to experiment a bit to figure out what this is. The standard vertical post should be tall enough for your cat to stretch his full length, and should be very solid. Your cat won’t use a wobbly post. Cats especially like to use carpet covered cat “furniture” with posts, barrels, and platforms, since these are large enough, solid, and offer a variety of surfaces to claw. They also nap and play on the furniture, helping to reinforce the idea that it is theirs.
Place the post where the kitten wants to use it.
This is essential – a post placed in the basement next to the litter box won’t get used. Kittens often like to stretch and scratch after a nap, so place the post wherever she likes to nap. We highly recommend placing several posts around the house, wherever your kitten likes to hang out, so a post is always within easy reach.
Use enticements and dissuasion.
You can help interest your kitten in his new scratching post by sprinkling or rubbing catnip on it, or by dangling a toy around for him to grab. Don’t forget to reward him for using it. Tell him what a good boy he is – he understands your tone of voice and the affectionate rub on his head. You can even reward him with treats.
When he starts to scratch on the sofa (or chair or bed), let him know that this is not allowed. Try using your voice to train your kitten. If you see inappropriate scratching, say in a loud, booming voice “NO!!” This generally gets a startle response, which interrupts the scratching. Most kittens get the message pretty quickly.
Some people use a water spray bottle to discipline their kitten. We would recommend trying the voice method first. Spraying a cat with water is rather harsh and can produce counter-productive behavior in your kitten.