Category Archives: Cats

Home Dental Care for Cats

Home dental care for cats can make a tremendous difference in your cat’s comfort and health. A wide variety of home oral hygiene options are available, but keep in mind that anything you can do to help prevent plaque and tartar accumulation will pay big dividends. What really matters is whether or not home oral hygiene was provided over the long haul – considerable effort applied only for a short period or only occasionally will be of no long-term benefit.

Below are listed some common forms of home oral hygiene that have been proven to be of benefit for cats. Combining several methods will achieve the best results. All methods of home oral hygiene share the goal of preventing or controlling periodontal disease by minimizing plaque (bacterial film) accumulation, and preventing the mineralization of the plaque to form dental tartar. Cats can be reluctant to accept home oral hygiene, and require a very gradual, gentle and patient approach to achieve success.

Brushing your cat’s teeth is the single most effective means of home dental care for cats you can use to maintain dental health between professional dental cleanings. This makes sense because the bacterial film known as “plaque” is the cause of periodontal disease. This film is easily disrupted by the simple mechanical effect of brushing the teeth. For brushing to be effective, it needs to be done several times each week – daily brushing is best. Most cats will allow their teeth to be brushed, but you need to take a very gradual and gentle approach. Start by letting your cat lick the dentifrice from your finger, then off the small feline toothbrush, then gradually place the brush in your cat’s mouth and add the brushing motions. Introduction of this process may require daily activity over 1-2 months. We recommend pet-specific dentifrice for cats; these products are safe for cats and come in flavors that cats accept, such as poultry and seafood. Avoid human toothpastes as they often contain abrasives and high-foaming detergents that should not be swallowed or inhaled. Small cat-specific toothbrushes are available. Some cats prefer finger brushes.

Chlorhexidine is the most effective anti-plaque antiseptic. Chlorhexidine binds to the oral tissues and tooth surfaces, and is gradually released into the oral cavity. Chlorhexidine oral rinses or gels are safe for pets and rarely cause problems. The rinse is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on each side of the mouth. The gel is smeared onto the side of the teeth or applied as a tooth-paste on a tooth-brush or finger brush. Many cats object to the taste of this product, while others accept it with no difficulty.

Several dental-specific diets have been shown to be of benefit in retarding accumulation of dental plaque and tartar cats. Some employ a specific kibble design and others include a chemical anti-tartar poly-phosphate ingredient. Although they may be of value, there is little publicly-available information documenting the dental value of chew products for cats.

Unlike dogs, cats are very individualistic in their acceptance of home oral hygiene. Try several options (brushing, finger-brushing, dental rinses or gels, dental diets) to find those techniques and products that your cat best tolerates. Some cats are very particular about new flavors. Patience and a gentle approach will yield the best results.

Article by the American Veterinary Dental College.

Crate Training for Cats

Did you know we board and groom cats and other types of small and exotic animals? We have boarded a variety of animals other than dogs over the years, including guinea pigs, fish, birds, turtles and even a pot-bellied pig! Most of these animals come with their own cage or aquarium and they generally live in those while at home. Birds, bunnies, guinea pigs and other indoor pets can even come to prefer the safety of their cage to the vastness of life outside. Most cats, on the other hand, do not. At Misty Pines we hear stories all the time from people that have spent hours chasing their cats when the crate comes out and they end up late for their drop-off appointment for boarding. Of course they end up laughing it off and in the end the cat stays with us anyway, but what if your cat enjoyed going into his or her crate? What if your cat thought of their carrier as a safe place where they can relax? Because we have heard of so many cat owners dealing with issues relating to crate training, we have provided the article below to make getting your cat into their carrier an easier process.

Suzanne and Dan via the Behavior Education Network

We all know that if used properly, a crate can be a useful behavior management tool for dogs. But few people consider it important to crate train cats. To us, this is an unfortunate oversight. At the very least, most cats are transported to the veterinarian, groomer, and/or boarding kennel in a crate or similar carrier. Because this is the only time most cats are crated, the crate rapidly develops an unpleasant association.

There are other reasons to crate train cats. What about using a crate as a “calm-down” location for an overly excitable kitten? How about as a transition step in a cat-to-cat introduction? As a “time-out” location when one cat is attacking another cat in the family? Cats that are crate trained can even accompany their families on car-outings, and if leash trained can enjoy a Sunday picnic in the park. You can even use a large crate that could be put on your deck or backyard to give your cat some fresh-air time while keeping him safe.

Crate training procedures for cats are not much different than for dogs. However, if your cat already hides when the crate comes out, it will be a longer process because you must overcome the cat’s existing crate aversion. You may need to start by just leaving the crate sitting out for a while – make it a part of the furniture in your den. This will allow your cat to disassociate the crate with a trip to someplace he doesn’t want to go.

Next, make it worth it to your cat to enter the crate. If your cat likes catnip, put a catnip toy in the crate. Leave the door open so your cat can retrieve the toy and come out. Place irresistible tidbits in the crate several times a day to encourage your cat to enter. Because cats like hidey-holes (it’s why they like to crawl into boxes and bags), you may find your cat using the crate as a private resting spot.

Once your cat is no longer reluctant to enter the crate, place him in the crate with a tidbit and close the door for a minute or two. Practice carrying the crate around the house, and even putting it in the car and immediately bringing it back inside. Perfect your crate-carrying technique. Avoid swinging the crate or bumping it against your leg if possible. You want to give your cat a smooth ride, not one filled with pot-holes! Of course the next step would be to take your cat on car rides that don’t end at unpleasant destinations.

Because kittens are so curious and not afraid of new things, it’s likely easier to crate train a kitten as compared to an adult cat. But it’s never too late. Even if your cat never learns to love his crate, by using these procedures you can at least decrease his anxiety so that he can tolerate crating better.

Misty Pines hopes that this helps you and your cat have an easier time traveling, whether to the vet’s office, the groomer’s or to their secretly favorite boarding facility. We wish you all the best in training your cat to enjoy a crate and remember; you can use these tactics to help your cat acclimate to any situation.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats: Maximizing Your Home to Better Meet Your Cat’s Needs – Part 2

Part 2: Litter Boxes, Vertical Spaces and Scratching.

by Ingrid Johnson, CCBC (Certified Cat Behavior Consultant)

Litter Boxes

cat in uncovered litter boxThe placement and maintenance of litter boxes is another enormous factor in achieving feline contentedness. Many people provide litter boxes that are hard to access or not clean enough then wonder why their cats are not compliant. Litter boxes should be BIG — one and a half times the length of your cat’s body is ideal. They should have lots of room so that your cat can move and turn around without stepping on a soiled area. Litter boxes should be uncovered. If you’re using storage bin—style boxes or insist on having hooded boxes, be sure they are clear so that your cats can anticipate if someone is coming. Remember that cats are both predator and prey, and using the litter box is one of their most vulnerable moments. They must feel safe or they will find another place to go.

Putting litter boxes behind cat doors or in dead-end areas is a recipe for disaster. All one cat has to do is guard the door and whack the other cat in the head as they come to use the box. It will not be long before the cat being smacked finds a new place to go to the bathroom. Cats want to eliminate in places where their human’s scent is strong, but we always want to hide boxes in places we never go; these two preferences do not mix. Having unobtrusive boxes that are meticulously maintained is, by far, the preferred option. Cats do not want litter box rooms or cat rooms. They would prefer that the boxes be interspersed throughout the home. Bedrooms, bathrooms, home offices, and screen porches are all great places for litter boxes and are a lot more pleasant and less scary than basements, laundry rooms, and closets.

Also, from your cat’s perspective, having multiple boxes all lined up in a row is the same as having only one big box. Offer one more litter box location than you have cats so that all boxes cannot possibly be guarded or in use at any given time. Be sure to scoop daily — no exceptions! Dump and scrub the boxes every few weeks and replace them entirely every two years.

Vertical Space and Scratching

Vertical space and outlets for normal scratching behavior are very important aspects of feline environmental enrichment. Cats are the most three-dimensionally oriented of all of the species we share our homes with. It is absurd to think one can have a cat and NOT facilitate its innate need to climb. Cats take great comfort in being up high. Height allows them to survey a lot of area from a single vantage point and provides a sense of safety and security.

There is not usually one dominant cat in the feline world; it changes based on who owns a given space. The dominant cat changes from room to room, floor to floor, and piece of furniture to piece of furniture. Offering vertical space not only increases the usable square footage of your home, it allows cats to communicate hierarchy of a given space without confrontation. It gives the cats a chance to get up and away from other cats and find a solo resting spot. If you have multiple cats, dogs, or toddlers, vertical spaces can provide great spots for food bowls. I recommend placing cat condos near windows or sliding glass doors to facilitate bird and squirrel watching.

Climbing is also great exercise. Just as foraging toys are as close to letting a mouse loose in the house as we will get, indoor climbing opportunities are as close to providing trees as we can get. Cats need to scratch and scent mark too, and vertical spaces provide outlets for those innate behaviors as well. If you don’t give cats appropriate outlets to satisfy their need for heights, they will fulfill that need in less desirable places such as the top of the kitchen cabinets or refrigerator, the top of your closet on your clean clothes, or on a piece of furniture you would rather they not climb.

While we are on the subject of vertical space, let’s talk about scratching behavior. Cats scratch for four main reasons: to scent mark, to groom their nails, to stretch, and to blow off stress and frustration. Set your cats up for success. Cats do not feel the need to scratch mark in an empty guest bedroom where no one ever goes or in the basement where you spend zero time. Get an attractive post you can be proud of and put it in a prominent, high-traffic area.

Scratching posts should be tall — a minimum of 32 inches —so your cats can achieve a full-body stretch. They should also be sturdy and stable. Cats do not want their scratching posts to move, so don’t waste your money on the kind that hang from the doorknob. The posts should never topple over while your cats are using them. The majority of cats prefer to scratch sisal, but any abrasive texture can work. Do not offer fuzzy, tufted carpet on your post as it teaches your cat to scratch that texture, which could lead to them scratching your carpets or rugs. Most people do not have sisal rugs in their homes, so cats do not make the same connection. Fuzzy, tufted carpet also does not do the job that cats need it to do: remove the sheath of their nails. They need a more abrasive surface to scratch.

Next month we will continue with Part 3, which will cover environmental enrichment for indoor cats relating to fun and play.


  1. Young RJ. Environmental enrichment for captive animals. Oxford: Blackwell Science; 2003:1-2.
  2. Neville PF. An ethical viewpoint: the role of veterinarians and behaviorists in ensuring good husbandry for cats. Paper presented at: American Association of Feline Practitioners; 2002; Tempe, Arizona.
  3. Overall KL. Manual of clinical behavioral medicine for dogs and cats. St Louis: Elsevier;201 3:106-9.
  4. Beaver RVG. Feline behavior A guide for veterinarians. 2nd ed. St. Louis: Saunders Co; 2003:54, 221.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats: Maximizing Your Home to Better Meet Your Cat’s Needs – Part 1

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Part 1: Fundamentals and Food and Water.

by Ingrid Johnson, CCBC (Certified Cat Behavior Consultant)

Fundamentally Feline 

“Environmental enrichment is a concept which describes how the environments of captive animals can be changed for the benefit of the inhabitants. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices to animals and drawing out their species appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare.”1

Humans have created a world that is no longer safe for cats. We can choose to let our beloved cats go outside, where they can be hit by cars, attacked by dogs or wild animals, shot with pellet guns, and live a life threatened by diseases and parasites, or we can keep them safely indoors. But that safety comes with a price doesn’t it? We force cats to comply with the expectations of the human world, and that often sets them up to fail.  

Enrichment can help change that by setting them up for success, but enrichment is more than just providing toys. Our homes are essentially glorified cages. We must strive to make our homes — our cats’ “cages” — the most fun and stimulating places they can be by meeting all of our cats’ needs while keeping them safe.

In order to meet our cats’ needs, we need a better understanding of what exactly those needs are. Cats thrive on predictability and routine. They like to feel in control of their surroundings and of resources such as food, water, litter, vertical space, and safe napping spots. Their species is both predator and prey, so the needs of both must be met. That means providing places to retreat that create a sense of safety and security while simultaneously appealing to their hunting instincts and prey drive.

This is where play and positive frustration come in. “Positive frustration” refers to situations in which the animal has to figure out a problem and is rewarded when they do so.2 An example would be the process of hunting — figuring out how to catch prey so that they can eat. In the home setting, foraging toys, also referred to as food puzzles, can be used to mimic this predatory drive and create positive frustration. Of course, play time with both interactive and solo object toys as well as interaction with other cats, dogs, and humans can also be enriching and desirable to different extents, depending on the individual. 

Food and Water 

Cats are not family-style eaters,3 yet humans seem to insist on lining up all of our cats’ bowls in the kitchen and forcing them all to eat together. This is not an ideal way to feed cats. In fact, it is a great way to create unnecessary competition, increase aggression between cats, and cause someone to go without their portion of canned food. Meal feeding and family-style eating creates competition that often results in enthusiastic overeating, which can lead to vomiting. Cats naturally eat nine to 16 small, evenly sized meals throughout the course of the day.4 They are grazers. Rather than creating so much competition at meal time, create feeding stations that allow them to graze on canned food the way they have previously grazed on dry kibble. This allows the cats to eat in the locations and at the times that they feel most comfortable.

Try to maintain a consistent schedule of feeding and play, as cats are extreme creatures of habit who thrive on routine. It is especially important to maintain schedules in the face of environmental stressors such as houseguests, moving, bringing home a new baby, etc. 

Another tip is to separate food and water. In the wild, cats would not normally have a water source right next to where they killed their prey, so it is more natural for them to have their water separated from their food. (Both should also be separated from their litter.) Cats can be very finicky about the taste of their water. Putting food and water bowls close together often results in food particle contamination, which distorts the taste of the water, resulting in less drinking. If you have a dog, always offer a separate water source for your cat. While they may choose to drink from the dog’s bowl, they may also want to avoid the doggy slobber. Be sure to offer options. 

While we are on the subject of water, let’s have some fun! Some cats really do enjoy playing with water — on their terms, of course. Try placing some marbles on the bottom of a bathroom sink filled with water so your cat can “go fishing” for them. This game can be very fun because the marbles are quite slippery, and actually getting one out of the sink is quite a challenge. I place a towel on the edge of the sink to help absorb any mess from this game. If your cats are leery of actually sticking their paws into the water, try ping-pong balls. They float on top and bounce around a bit. You can also try children’s wind-up toys; the only downside is that you often have to stick around to keep winding them up. Another fun option is making flavored ice cubes. Tuna water or low/no sodium chicken broth can be great for this. I usually put a little piece of meat in the center so they get a treat when it melts, like a Tootsie Pop! These ice cubes can be placed in sinks, bathtubs, sheet pans, or even dropped into water bowls to flavor the water. However, if you are going to do this, you MUST provide a regular unflavored water source as well. 

Offering dry food in food-dispensing toys, also called foraging toys or food puzzles, is a great way to allow your cats to free feed and eat their normal nine to 16 small meals per day while also giving them something fun to do with their time. Foraging toys provide an outlet for cats’ hunting instincts and prey drive. These toys offer positive frustration; when cats figure out the puzzle, they are rewarded with food. This style of free feeding also solves the problem of excessive overeating that often results in the vomiting of undigested food. I have seen foraging reduce aggression in multi-cat homes because the cats have to spend more time figuring out how they are going to acquire food and eat, so they have less time to beat up their house mates. More mental stimulation leads to less environmental stress!3  For cats who are new to foraging, toys should be clear and round with multiple holes. Clear objects allow them to see the kibble; round means the toys will roll easily, and objects with multiple holes will dispense the kibble easily so your cat can be successful and learn the game. As they start to get the hang of manipulating the toys, try offering opaque objects so that the food inside can no longer be seen. Next, try toys with erratic movement or those that do not roll very easily. The ultimate goal is to find your cat’s greatest level of challenge. This will, of course, be different for each individual. I have found opaque, cube-shaped toys and weighted toys to be the most difficult. Some cats I refer to as “master foragers” eventually end up hilling a wall and can get easily food out of just about anything. For these individuals, try combining toys by filling a smaller object and placing it inside a larger one.

Next month we will continue with Part 2, which will cover environmental enrichment for indoor cats relating to Litter Boxes, Vertical Spaces and Scratching.


  1. Young RJ. Environmental enrichment for captive animals. Oxford: Blackwell Science; 2003:1-2.
  2. Neville PF. An ethical viewpoint: the role of veterinarians and behaviorists in ensuring good husbandry for cats. Paper presented at: American Association of Feline Practitioners; 2002; Tempe, Arizona.
  3. Overall KL. Manual of clinical behavioral medicine for dogs and cats. St Louis: Elsevier;201 3:106-9.
  4. Beaver RVG. Feline behavior A guide for veterinarians. 2nd ed. St. Louis: Saunders Co; 2003:54, 221.


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