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The Feline Environment





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Cat furniture is not a toy, but a serious piece of furniture that should be part of any space where a cat is living an indoor life. Many people initially think that getting one small scratching post will be all they need. Cats like to climb and scratch and mark their territory. These are normal feline behaviors and they need an allowed space in which to be cats. If they don't have that they may decide which pieces of your furniture suit them.

Before you even bring your cat home you should purchase at least one piece of cat furniture. This needs to be more than a scratching post or scratching "thing". Remember scratching is only one behavior that cats must do.

Cat furniture runs the gamut from modestly priced and small sized to huge gyms with all sorts of attachments. One can even design an indoor jungle for your tiny tiger. Bob Walker and his wife Francine did just that in The Cats' House. Even if you don't care to remodel your entire house the way they did, you may enjoy the book, and you can get a few ideas as to how to adapt a room or two or an area of a room for them. There are new building materials that are not wood and are easy to clean that can make excellent high lookout shelves. Your cat will appreciate a high spot from which to escape and nap. If it's near a window where he can watch birds and squirrels from the top of his world he will be very appreciative.

When buying cat furniture keep in mind the size your cat will grow to be, and how many cats you have. Cats appreciate their own space too. If you have several cats you will have a better time and fewer behavior problems if you don't crowd them. Larger cats can be more destructive than smaller cats so buying a better grade of furniture will serve you better in the long run. You can of course start out smaller, but be prepared to add to the collection as time goes on.

Climbing is also an important exercise for your cat. He can't join a gym or jog around the block. He needs to stretch his amazing muscles. Many overweight cats are that way because they just don't get enough exercise. Encourage your cat to exercise daily. Throw a ball or a toy mouse down the stairs and let him chase it, he may even learn to bring it back to you. Cats do like games too. This is also a good activity for children to do with cats. Just be sure to keep the active play to no more than ten-minute periods and stop if kitty looks tired. Never let your cat go to the panting stage.

Cat's favorite spots

Any look out near a window (make sure they can't get out however)

Your bed

High spots almost any will do

Warm or sunny spots (this may be behind your TV if you are not forthcoming with an alternative)

Wherever you spend a lot of time

Wherever they can be alone when they want to

Those are the basic considerations. After that, as many and varied as you can offer will be fine.

Building your own Cat Furniture

While cat trees and condos can cost from under $100 to the thousands you can try your hand at building your own. Some of the books on this subject will also give you ideas that you can adapt as well as entertaining insight into what cats can and will do with your home. After all you did get a cat to entertain you, didn't you?

If you are somewhat handy or have a creative spirit, there's a new product on the market that is washable, paintable, stain resistant and doesn't warp or leave splinters, It can be tooled the same way wood can. It's called Azak and many lumber yards carry it. I have used it in several areas for shelves in my cattery. Simply throw a rug over it and you have a cat perch that will last for ever. You'll need shelf brackets at safe intervals on a long span as this product bends too. There's also matching trim so there's no need to sacrifice the 'look' of your home.

Here are some home made cat climbing and look out areas. Be creative. It doesn't have to be perfect. It should be safe, easy to clean, or replaceable and most of all it should be where your cat and you will enjoy it the most.

Some links to some good cat furniture sources.


Scratching is a natural and necessary activity for your cat. Cats scratch to leave their scent, mark their territory as theirs, to groom their claws. When they scratch they are also exercising the long luxurious and amazingly flexible muscles in their limbs. Scratching serves many purposes for your cat. In other words, they will and must scratch. It's up to you to provide appropriate places for them to do these things or they will choose their own.

Some cat furniture has scratching areas built in. If you can only manage one piece of the jungle for your feline friend by all means make sure it has scratching areas. Several areas around the house is the ideal however. So try to spread out the scratching areas.

Scratching furniture and appliances come in many shapes and sizes. Good materials for these are sisal, carpet and wood. You can even make your own scratching posts using sisal rope wound around a board and affixed to a stable base. However a separate post is not a large investment, and certainly better than the arm of your sofa.

When you bring your cat home, show him the scratching areas. Carry him over and place him down in front of it. But do not take his paws and scratch for him, instead place his feet up on the scratching surface and then rub his back. This should stimulate him to want to scratch. If he does go for your couch, place a scratching post in front of the sofa arm and gently guide him to using it instead of the sofa.


There is a dizzying array of cat litters on the market today. Cat litter comes in several basic types. My preference is the crystal litter made by Freshmagic. . This litter is silica and does not clump. Instead it absorbs the urine and surrounds the feces. Because silica is a dehydrating substance it quickly absorbs most of the moisture in both. This results in an almost immediate elimination of any odor. The bags say one bag, one cat, one month. I have found that to be a bit on the optimistic side, however I don't just have one cat, so perhaps they are correct. Reports I have gotten from some of my cat families seem to indicate somewhat less time than one month. Each person fills and cleans somewhat differently though so this is a matter of trial and error.

There are many advantages to crystal litter and one disadvantage. It rolls, and scatters, but so does all litter and at least the little pearls are easy enough to grab with a damp cloth or a hand vac. One tremendous advantage is that the crystal shows you the color of your cat's urine. Normal cat urine is some shade of yellow. Too dark a color indicates too much concentration which is a sign that kitty is not getting enough water. Too light and he may be urinating too often. Dark brown or red or pink is probably blood. If you see that you should go to the vet as soon as possible. I also find the boxes easier to wash using the crystal litter. No liners are needed and just a wash in hot soap and water is sufficient to clean the box. I like to soak them with bleach and water before drying. After years of clumping clay it's a pleasure to clean a box that has crystal litter in it. One very big advantage to crystal litter that dries the moisture from the urine and fecal matter is it also leaves less opportunity for bacteria to grow. Bacteria love moist environments, not dry ones. And yes, you can use the automatic boxes with crystal.

Clumping litters
Most clumping litters are made of a clay material. One removes the clumps of wet clay and fecal material and disposes of them. Some people use liners for clay litter, but remember some cats really dig in after eliminating and they will claw through the liner too. I find the litter box more difficult to clean when using clay as some of the wet clay that has dried turns to a cement type substance that frequently must be soaked off.

Natural litters
Some of these are made of cornhusks, or wood fiber. I am not totally convinced that these are safe for the cats, and most of these have no odor destroying properties and may be good growth media for certain molds. These also scatter leaving a sawdusty type residue.

Scented litters
Aside from being harmful to your cat, they aren't terribly effective. All the scent does is cover up the smell, it does nothing to eliminate it. In addition, some cats are highly sensitive to perfumes and won't like using a perfumed box. This can cause the cat to avoid the box.

One of the biggest reasons for cats ending up in shelters is not using the box. Most of the time when a cat doesn't use the box it's because he may be sick. Investigate that first before you decide what to do. There may be other causes, but this one should be ruled out first. I will deal with that more in inappropriate behaviors.

If you have a litter box issue I recomend From Rugs to Hugs, an excellent, vet written how to book for your rug favoring cat.  downloadable, a great resource.

Make sure you have enough boxes, and that no more than one or two cats have to share one box. Also, if your home is on more than one level it may be a good idea to place a box on each level.


Carriers come in every type imaginable and can be prices modestly or can be costly. The most important thing is that your carrier be safe and secure and easy to get the cat in and out of.

Some people have more than one type of carrier. They may have a soft carrier if they have to travel by plane often with the cat, or the may just prefer the soft carrier. Living in a city, it's easier to board a bus or get into a taxi with a soft carrier. A soft carrier can be slung over your shoulder, leaving your hands free, and the cat can then ride on your lap. For long car rides however a hard carrier may be safer and allow the cat to move around more.

There are many choices of both basic types to fit almost any budget. Try to get one that can be cleaned inside easily in case your cat gets car sick, or has an accident. Soft carriers frequently have exterior pockets for storing tissues, treats, and even a water bottle.

Inappropriate Behavior

Litter Box Problems
The most common reason for cats being dropped off in shelters is thinking outside the box… the litter box that is.   

Reasons for this can be

Pain due to an infection or blockage,  the latter is a serious problem that must be dealt with rapidly to avoid death, so please don’t automatically assume that your cat is acting out because you stayed out late.    Particularly if you see him straining or going frequently with very little coming out, or see any pinkish cast to the urine. Or spots of pink or brown go immediately to your vet.  In a male cat particularly this can be critical.

Declawed cats who formerly used the box may stop as they get older and the pain of walking on their knuckles gets worse.

Has the box been moved or disturbed recently, or has a new cat been brought in?  Many cats will not willingly share their box with a newcomer… a good rule is two cats, two boxes.   Each then can choose to share or not, but initially, one of his own will go a long way to smoothing out the introduction process and avoid out of the box thinking

Have you tried a new litter?   Many cats hate scented anything.   They are scent guided and if something masks their own scent of a familiar scent this may throw them off or cause avoidance behavior.   Some object to different textures.   If possible it’s best if you want to change litters to try the new litter in another box until you are sure they like it and will use it.  

If you have guest coming and fear their disapproval of your box location, think again.   Moving it for Aunt Mary may have a high price.   Simply tell Aunt Mary that she is welcome to the guest room, but she has to share the bath with kitty’s box.   Otherwise when Aunt Mary goes home you may be left with the consequences of this accommodating move on your part.  If your cat has two locations he will probably prefer the more private one for the duration.

Please give kitty the privacy and consideration you would want with your own bathroom as much as possible…

Keeping the box clean and not using scented cleaners on or around the box is absolutely essential.   Regular bleach and not a lot will do all the disinfecting you need.   1/32nd part bleach to water is all that’s needed to kill almost any infectious agents that might accumulate.  If you use soap, be sure it doesn’t leave a heavy scent.   You may like lemons but be aware that citrus is a turn off to a cat… some even suggest leaving lemon peels in an area to be avoided.  

There are many links on line to cat litter box issues, and an excellent book, vet written below may shed some light.

We love her title too, From Rugs to Hugs, which is what we want, right?   It’s downloadable at this link.

I learned something interesting a few years back; covering things in plastic is not a good idea.   Why? Because plastic is made of Polyurethane, note the end of that word?
Urethane, is made of, you guessed it, ureic acid… a chemical similar to urine. And to a cat it smells like Pee!!!!

Confusion of Substrates… sound confusing?  Is your cat peeing on carpet instead of his litter?   It may be that the carpet feels very similar to his litter.   Peeing in a bowl? Or a plant?  Confusion, or perhaps similarity of substrates would be a better term.   Looks like a toilet, feels like one, ok… again, the more you learn to think like your cat the easier it will be to live with him.

As we have said, scratching is something cats MUST do.   It’s not that they scratch that is usual the problem, but where and what. 

Providing them with their own legal scratching places early on will go a long way to avoiding the furniture portion of this.   Scratching serves several functions for a normal cat.   One is scent marking.   In this way they can tell the world that they patrol the area and outsiders must be aware of that.  Outsiders can be other cats or many visitors that come in from places that carry scent of other cats.  Yes, even shoes and handbags that have been near your friend’s cat can and will emit a scent.    Marking does not usually become an issue in a single or two cat household.   The exception might be if there is competition between two unaltered cats, or a desire to mate.   Another good reason to have your cat neutered at six months before they become sexually aware.

Scratching also sharpens or files down their nails, so regular clipping will help this stay at a minimum.  Again, the furniture you choose should have sisal or wood or some hard surface as well as carpeting.

Scratching your young children?  I hear this and when I do and I observe the situation it’s almost always that the cat is being picked up at whim by the eager to love child when the cat does not want to be picked up or more frequently than the cat might like.   It’s scratching is not aggressive behavior; it’s an attempt to escape being confined unwillingly.  This is usually a case of retraining and supervising the child.    If you notice, the same cat will frequently go to the child’s bed and curl up on it’s own when it’s ready.   Please don’t train the cat to fear the child by punishing the cat for scratching, and please don’t declaw for this reason.    Cats almost never climb into a crib and claw a baby.   That’s because the baby just sleeps and is warm and cozy.   So fear of that is unwarranted.   An unmeant scratch on the way down to chase a bug just means his nails may need clipping; a good pawdicure will fix that.
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