A week's worth of cat questions
April 6, 2008 7:07 PM   Subscribe

We've had our cats for a year-and-a-half now. Things have been great. Things have also been very stable for the cats and that is about to change majorly in a couple of months. With that in mind help answer some of my (many) cat questions.

OK, we're moving back home with our 2 2-year-old cats. First off, this requires us being in an airplane for 2-3 hours. Are the cats better off going in soft carriers in the cabin or a hard carrier in the hold? Some recommendations for specific carriers would be great.

I'd imagine that having to live in a new house will be stressful for them. What behaviours can I expect and what can I do to make them more comfortable with their new surroundings?

Hair is going to be a bigger issue at home. I've read about the furminator (not least on askme) but my wife is skeptical. Does it do the job and is it worth the money?

Can we train our cats to use the toilet? If so, any tips? This might just be wishful thinking on our part.

Otherwise they have been fine with a shared litterbox (just a standard plastic litterbox) using clumping litter but there is dust and litter tracked around the area (even with a tracking pad). Are we better off changing to crystals/corn/sawdust/etc and getting a fancy litterbox?

Up to now they've lived in an apartment, only going out when we've taken them to the vet. At home there'll be a backyard. I'd like to let them experience the outside world, am I crazy for this? We live on a busy side-street. Should I let them outside at all? Only when supervised and on a harness? Give them free reign?

What else am I missing here?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you decide to carry them with you in the cabin, may I suggest some sort of cat valium? Yowling cats for 3 hours=murderous cabin-mates. How well do they usually travel in the car, etc.?

I have two cats, one of whom would have already trained himself to use the toilet had it ever occurred to him. The other, well, he is a supermodel. Gorgeous and utterly stupid. How smart are your guys?

Re your last point: once you let them out, the genie is out of the bottle. I personally feel that kitties enjoy life far more being free-range. But sadly, their enjoyable lives are often much shorter. It's a real dilemma, and once you have opened that door (literally!) it is near impossible to close it again. (Though I have known at least one cat who was happily trained to a harness. Out of hundreds of cats, mind you.)

The age of the cats is important to many of your concerns, too.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:03 PM on April 6, 2008

Uh, may I add: not supermodel-ist...
posted by thebrokedown at 8:04 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: If you decide to carry them with you in the cabin, may I suggest some sort of cat valium? Yowling cats for 3 hours=murderous cabin-mates. How well do they usually travel in the car, etc.?

This is almost certainly unnecessary. I've flown with my cat before and though he will yowl like a devil in a car, he is mostly chill on planes and the ambient noise of the plane covered any noise he did make. Plus drugging cats tends to be dangerous and most vets won't do it unless they really believe the cat will totally flip out without it.

I would do soft carriers in the cabin, which, like I said, I've done. Planes tend to have very strict and small size requirements for carriers, which I followed to the letter but probably actually did not need to do. Soft carriers will squish and no one ever did check the size of the carrier when I flew with my cat. The worst parts of flying with cats are:
1) Going through security. You have to take them out of the carrier and carry them through the metal detectors. Put a leash on them and hold it tight if you think there's any chance they will flip out and try to run away during this.
2) You have to have health certificates to fly with them, although like carrier size I've never had an airline actually check this. The certificates will cost you a vet visit to get.
3) The cats will really hate airports, probably about as much as you hate airports. My cat peed in his carrier from fear. Pay the money and get an absorbent pad.

I'll leave the rest of the questions for the rest of the peanut gallery, except that I personally do not think you should let your cats outside. If they aren't used to it anyway they will almost certainly live longer and just as happy lives inside as they would if you let them out.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:28 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Your cats may hide for the first few days after you get to the new place, especially if all of your familiar-smelling belongings are in boxes. Don't worry about this. As long as they have food and water and a litterbox in obvious locations, they'll get their needs met even if you never see them (possibly when you're not around/awake). Eventually they will re-emerge.

I wouldn't let them experience the outside. It's like the Matrix; once they know there's a whole real world out there, they won't be content with staying in. I also have two 2-year-old cats and they've never been outside, which means they don't rush to get through the door every time I open it. They seem very happy to run around the house. Outside where I live means they're almost guaranteed to get infected with feline HIV, which is an epidemic around here. Plus there's traffic, and coyotes...

They can be trained to use the toilet, but it's very time consuming. I personally would rather deal with some litter on the floor than with actual turds (or worse, urine) when the cat "misses".

Can't help with air travel (the cats have only been in the car) or shedding issues; I have hardwood floors and easy-to-vacuum furniture. Good luck!
posted by chowflap at 8:36 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: I would NEVER put an animal in the cargo hold. Bad things happen, more often than one would like to think. HSUS agrees. The last time I took a cat on a plane, it was as ch1x0r said. They usually just settle in and nap. I would put a harness, rather than a leash, on kitty, because you have more control that way and they can't slip out of it.

I don't let my cats out. I'm sure that they would love to go out and meander about, but there are, at least in my neighborhood, cats that are sick, other animals (raccoons, opossums, etc) that could do some major damage, and drivers who don't care. Also to consider, cats that go outside can put a major dent in local bird populations. Cats are safer kept indoors. My cats seem happy living inside. I set out birdseed and they watch the action through the window.

There are toilet-training kits for cats. I've never tried it. I just might.

Hope this helps, and good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Moving to a new house will certainly be stressful for them, especially if they're used to a small apartment. I'd recommend confining them to one room at first, especially while you're trying to move furniture and stuff around. Most cats' first reaction to stressors like this is to hide, so give them a box or carrier they can hang out in if they want. How long they should stay in the room depends on how bold they are; you know your cats best, so play that one by ear.

If your house has an unfinished basement, or some other area that is similarly uninhabited, put the litterbox in there, on top of a piece of shag carpet. Vacuum the carpet occasionally.

Unless your cats show a strong desire to go outside, I say keep them inside. My first two cats were outdoor cats, though only because it would have crushed their spirits to keep them in. On the one hand, it was really, really neat to have outdoor cats, and in some sense it was better for them, but it also really, really sucked when one of them was killed by a car at the age of three, and the other disappeared off the face of the Earth at the age of seven.

That said, if you do decide that keeping them inside would turn them into hollow shells of beings, here are a couple tips:

Don't let them take you for granted. Don't leave food out; feed them on a schedule. Use a whistle or something similar to call them to evening meals, and then don't let them out afterwards. The whistle-calling thing worked for us because our outdoor cats absolutely loved food. If your cats are indifferent to food, this may not work.

Put collars on them, but don't put dangly tags on that can get caught on stuff. Write your name and number on a piece of paper and use clear packing tape to tape it to the collar. Be sure to get collars that have the kind of clasp that comes apart if it gets pulled too hard.

Get RFID tags implanted under their skin. This way, they can still be identified if they lose their collar. These are very standard, all shelters check for them. You might consider these in any event, in case one of them slips outside.

Be prepared for the possibility that your cats will meet a bad end. Letting them outside can and most likely will enrich their lives, but it's dangerous. Feral cats rarely live more than three years. The cat of mine who we lost had at least one serious near death experience before he vanished (he came home one day with a horrible wound on his stomach; we think he was attacked by a dog).

If this has scared you off of letting them out unsupervised, you can try taking them out on harnesses. It might work, but don't bet on it. If they're happy indoors, don't bother with any of it.
posted by Commander Rachek at 9:04 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: my vet says DO NOT sedate the cat on the plane. if there is any turbulence or anything then they will just be flopping around limply and likely to hurt themselves. after being taken out for the security check and seeing the all the crazy shit going on at the airport my cat dove back into his carrier and had no interest in coming back out again.
posted by swbarrett at 9:07 PM on April 6, 2008

oh also be prepared for non-stop of cooing and "ooooh look at the kittie" people at the airport are REALLY bored.....
posted by swbarrett at 9:09 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: My girlfriend and I flew cross-country with two cats in soft carriers. Don't put them in cargo. I have a friend whose cat was lost by the airline (door busted open while outside and the cat ran off, never to be seen again). Besides, flying with the animals is just easier emotionally for both you and your cat. We bought our carriers well before we started moving and put old items of clothing inside them to help them start to smell like home and less like pet store. Bring spare rags to line the bottom in case your cats have an accident (could happen from nervousness or from just not being able to hold it that long). If you have to change the rags, do it in the bathroom so your cat can't run and hide under somebody's feet. (I actually let my cat out in the bathroom to stretch his legs a bit. He seemed to appreciate it.) Make sure your carrier is big enough for the cat to turn around in, but small enough to fit under the seat (that means checking with the airline to find out how much room there is). Book way ahead of time. Last I checked, only two major airlines in the US allowed pets. One was America West, which we went with, but that was before the merger went through, so I have no idea what their policy was. You'll need to schedule a visit with your vet within a few days of flying to get the paperwork. Don't lose it. I did, and we had to schedule an emergency visit to get copies.

Our vet recommended a mild sedative, which we used. It did not put them to sleep or send them completely limp, but it calmed them down immensely. One of our cats almost certainly would have been very noisy, and the other might have been quiet, but just riding in the car ups his heart rate so much that I would have been worried for the extended trip. I can't really say whether or not that was a truly safe thing to do, but I have to disagree ch1x0r about the claim that most vets won't do it unless they really believe the cat will totally flip out without it. We were reluctant to do it at first, but our vet convinced us that there were also dangers to being extremely nervous for very long periods of time. I don't know if I would be convinced by the same argument today. Unfortunately, I've only ever heard speculation and appeals to authority arguing either position, and I don't know anywhere that's done any actual studies about incidents involving sedated pets on airplanes.

With regards to a new home, all cats are different. Our cats just hid for a long time, only coming out of hiding for intake and outtake. If your cat likes to bolt out the door, you may want to confine him to a smaller area until it gets used to it. The same goes if they like to piss on, chew on, puke on, or scratch up things when they aren't comfortable. This can also help to lessen the chance that they end up underfoot while you're moving stuff in and around the new house. Don't let them out of the house until it seems like they've accepted the new place as home.

My cat made the transition from indoor/outdoor to indoor cat without much trouble. (My girlfriend's cat has always been indoor.) The debate about indoor versus outdoor is a touchy one, as Commander Rachek alludes to. I do believe that in general, cats that can go outside have a higher quality of life than those that can't. I also know that cats that go outside have shorter expected lifespans. Whether that trade-off is worth it depends a lot on the cat, on the house, and on the neighborhood. If you live near coyotes, I think letting the cat outside is a really bad idea. If you live near heavy traffic and your cat is the sort who likes to sit in the street, you might want to think better of it, but if he mostly avoids the roads and cars, that might not make the difference. Also, if you have a large house, multiple animals, or people in the home frequently, this makes a big difference in enjoyability of life. Even when my cat was an outdoor cat, I never let him out when no one was home, and I always brought him home before I went to bed. He got into fights sometimes (despite being neutered since he was young) and while he always seemed to be the winner (when I broke up the fights and the other cat ran off, he would run after them), he didn't do so without injury. He's still got a scar on his nose. I was very surprised at how well he took to being an indoor-only cat.

Give the harness a shot, I've seen it work for a cat once (they even brought their cat to a local sci-fi convention and he seemed to be fine going anywhere and meeting anyone). My cat completely hated the harness, however. You never know whether it will work for your animals.

Our litterbox has a cover on it and we keep a pad in front of it. This reduces but does not eliminate litter getting on the floor. Eventually we had to partially block it off with a baby gate to keep the dog we got last year from eating the cat poop, but that's not really relevant, I suppose.

I've lived with cats my entire life, and I've destroyed at least half a dozen vacuum cleaners. (I also have long hair myself.) I got sick of this a couple years ago and bought an expensive vacuum cleaner (a Dyson). It has not shown any problems yet. We still have to cut the hair of the rollers occasionally (but that's because of my hair and not the cats'), but no burnouts, no clogs, no bags, and easy emptying (minimal banging and dust clouds) made me not regret the purchase. It's not fantastic for getting the cat hair off upholstery, so we just use a lint roller for that.
posted by ErWenn at 10:21 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Note: I don't currently have and have never had multiple cats. This is based on my 20 (so far) years of experience with the family Maine Coon and my two dogs.
I also consulted with my friend who loves cats, has had multiple ones all her life, and who recently hand reared from is keeping 2 kittens, who will be referred to as Cat Crazy Friend.

Soft carriers in the cabin are far better than hard carriers in the hold. Ideally, don't sedate them, unless you've done it before and are experienced with how they both react. Call the airline ahead of time and make sure both cats can travel in the main cabin on that particular trip. Other people will have more advice, as I have never actually traveled with an animal like this, and I understand that airlines are really horrible about it, doing things like all of a sudden at the gate saying "oh no, you can't fly with your cat, what are you doing?"

You can expect them to act like angry brats for at least a few weeks. Other than that, my parents haven't moved since the cat was a year old, so...
Cat Crazy Friend: Well, they'll have a lot more space. They might need time to get used to it, depending on how old they are; you can keep them in one room or two adjoining rooms for a few days so they aren't as nervous as if you just booted them right into a house.
They'll probably go missing a lot in the beginning, because they'll explore everything, and because since it's a new environment they'll probably find the dark corners and weird little spaces and hide in them to feel more secure.
Make sure you keep the litter box near the first rooms you put them in for a little while, so they can always find it; especially if it's a big house, they may go several rooms away, get confused about where it is, and start peeing at random.
They'll tend to naturally want to hang out around their owner, so same thing for food; put it in the kitchen or somewhere else that you'll be a lot, so they see it and know where it is.
You only have to worry about where the food/litter is for a week or two. Just make sure that when you move it you grab them and put them next to it so they know when the urge next strikes them.

Hairs: I know nothing about this furminator of which you speak. I love my roomba for getting rid of dog hair. Vacuum more often. Hypoallergenic air filters on the furnace intake will also help, that way the hair isn't getting blown around. You may also wish to make brushing the cats a daily event--it's much more convenient to pick hair out of a brush than off the floor. Also, cats like it, at least in my experience.
If you're getting new furniture, I recommend covers to keep the hair off from the beginning (ideally waterproof). You already know they're going to claim the furniture, you might as well get something that when it gets disgusting you can either put in the wash or have dry cleaned while you keep the cats in the bathroom for a day.

Toilet training:
I have never wanted to train the cat to use the toilet, as I'm one of four children in a 1 bathroom house, and that would've just been more competition. So others will have to share about that.

I know nothing about the tracking around the area, but I will say that if there are multiple levels of the house, get multiple litterboxes. Clean them at least daily for the first few weeks at LEAST, because you're trying to make the litterboxes much more attractive than the floor. This is definitely not the time to change their litter. Cats are anal about shit like that under NORMAL circumstances; I suspect combining that with a move and you will have protest peeing. Cats will PLOT. They will pee in your bed ON PURPOSE if you piss them off. (This is why, I, as a Scorpio, love them so.)
Cat crazy friend: That's good if you're going to keep it up, though not strictly necessary; as long as they know where it is, most cats are fine with just one litter box somewhere in the house. They will probably get confused if you do multiple boxes and then get rid of some, though. Might have to be prepared to clean pee out of the places the boxes used to be. So don't start if you plan to stop later, or there will be much confusion and peeing on the floor.

Do not let your cats become indoor/outdoor cats. DO NOT. It is not natural for them to do so now. I can promise you, they will more than likely experience one of the following explore and become very lost, thus effectively dying, and possibly die due to either fight related injuries or being hit by a car.
I repeat, let them out only if supervised and on a harness that is physically connected to an adult at all times. And even that isn't necessary. I promise you, your cats do not miss the outdoors. They are perfectly content to rule over the house; they don't need all the dangers that go along with a yard. If they look out the window, it's because it's like TV for cats.
Cat crazy friend: Yeah, definitely keep them inside.
posted by saveyoursanity at 10:32 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: If your kitties yowl when in carriers in the car (?) I'm betting they will in the airport/on the flight. (Definitely NOT in the cargo hold, IMO) We've had excellent results using valium (vet-prescribed doses) when our skittish cats had to go on trips with us. They didn't lose their catlike balancing skills, although they were slightly more clumsy when let out of the carriers, but they did relax and enjoy--or endured with equanimity--the journey.

Our cats have differed in the ability and speed with which they adjusted to new digs, but a couple of things helped them more quickly resume their roles as our overlords after a move. As soon as we arrive in a new home we pick a room we won't be entering and exiting much as we are moving in, and stow them there with box, food, water, familiar blankies, etc. Once the move-in ruckus has died down we give them the run of the kingdom once more. We neglected to do this re-acclimating routine on one move...one cat got out as someone was coming in the door carrying a box. We were fortunate she somehow recalled our new location and came home 4 days later.

As for litter location, if your home has a garage, you might want to try what has worked like a charm for us for eight years, with a total of seven cats (never more than 5 at one time...I promise!) We have their entire setup along the wall just outside the door going from the house into the garage. We keep the door cracked just enough that they can get in and out using a beanbag (an old sock filled w/ dried beans and tied at one end keeps it open the requisite 4 or 5 inches). EUREKA!!!---what happens in the garage, stays in the garage! The beanbag is better than a doorstop...easy to move in and out of the opening w/ one foot, and doesn't scar up the wood of the door/wall/floor, etc.) We also have their dishes out there at a little distance from the Kitty Powder area.

As to allowing them outside, I wouldn't turn an already indoor cat into a mostly outdoor cat because I don't think they have developed the necessary survival skills after so long indoors...As others have mentioned, in addition to cars and trucks, suburban and urban environments have many predators, domestic as well as wild. That said, we've done fine letting our indoor kitties out while we are with them for a few minutes to a half an hour or so...ours are so wary they mostly just sniff around, sit on the porch, or venture a few feet out. Generally when we want them back in we just have to get their attention, open the door and they just scurry back in. It's kind of a thrill to see this since it's the only time they're even vaguely responsive to our expressed desires.
posted by mumstheword at 10:55 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: I have never had to transport a cat on a plane (I was always too afraid and just drove them when I had to move), so I will defer to my esteemed colleagues on that point.

I was unable to teach my cats to use the toilet. If your cats are big the mechanical litterboxes don't work as well as on the smaller cats. Put some of the nubbly office carpet under your litter boxes.

I ask you not to let your kitties outside. It is bad for the cats, and bad for the birds and animals unfortunate enough to encounter your cat outside.

The Audubon Society agrees.
posted by winna at 11:46 PM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Our kitten was flown to us across the country in cargo, and while she made it without any apparent harm, it's to be avoided if at all possible -- they put all the animal crates near each other, which can freak out some cats especially if there are barking dogs, and the temperature is controlled but not as tightly as one might want. Our kitten arrived pretty out of it, but she came around fairly quickly. She was tiny and it was a long flight, so your cats will probably do better if you find yourself having to use cargo, but if you can do a soft carrier, that seems better to me.

The furminator is GREAT. We have a few brushes and combs and it's the only one that pulls out handfuls of loose hair, and the cat loves it.

As spring approaches, we're wondering about the indoor/outdoor thing, too. You read about the shorter life of an outdoor cat - but does it apply at all if the cat only goes outside supervised and on a harness? And, once having been outside, do they inevitably whine and/or claw to get out?
posted by daisyace at 4:32 AM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: My cats have been through up to half a dozen moves and all kinds of changes of circumstance, and every time the reaction was two-ish days of grumpy-face and then back to normal if I kept their environments as familiar as reasonably possible. Except when I stopped letting them outside. They still remember, and they haven't had deliberate unimpeded access to the outdoors in years.

Obviously a cat outside on a leash with you is far less likely to be hit by a car, killed by a predator, find poisonous things to eat, etc. It does still happen occasionally (unleashed dogs are probably your biggest danger, unless you stay inside your own fenced back yard), but it's just not the same set of statistics. There is a higher risk of facial damage to a human trying to pick up and carry an angry or frightened cat back into the house.

Cats who want out will torment you to go out, and they will also start darting out the door. That's probably my number one warning if you start letting them out - they will start darting out doors to get back outside, and the little weasels are fast.

Immediately after the move, I would avoid any changes that are avoidable - use the same litter and litter boxes, same toys, same bedding, same feeding schedule and food. Give them a month to settle, which is a month for you to figure out the new lay of the land and decide and plan out any changes you want to make. Introduce them slowly and thoughtfully, let the cats adapt.

The Furminator is okay for a certain type of hair (it's useless on slick-haired cats with little undercoat, like my tortie, but I can brush an extra cat off my maine coon mix), but ultimately a vacuum cleaner is your best weapon. My animals bested even a Dyson, so we stick to high-amp bagless cleaners in the $100 range and replace them when they break (14-18 months average).
posted by Lyn Never at 6:05 AM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: my experience with the furminator is that it is useless. we have a long hair and a short hair. ymmv.

as for the backyard, don't let them have free range. there are cars and there are mean people. we put our cat on a leash in the back yard when we moved to a new place where we weren't comfortable with her having free range (like we had been at a previous home). we knew she wouldn't tolerate not being able to go out at all, so that's the compormise we made. when she wanted to go out, we hooked her up to the leash and when she wanted in, we brought her in.

i think the ultimate solution is if you have a screened in porch or something--let them hang out there.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:05 AM on April 7, 2008

Response by poster: Wow these answers are great! Thanks everyone.
I guess the only thing left is the usefulness of the furminator and that seems like a YMMV thing (the last three comments have said it was great, OK and useless).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:11 AM on April 7, 2008

I just got a furminator and have been impressed by it, it's worth a shot. The problem is, I'm never finished -- no matter how long I brush it keeps coming out, but that may just be because my cat is a freak of nature.
posted by o2b at 8:18 AM on April 7, 2008

Nthing the Furminator here. I have an Abyssinian and a British shorthair who both shed disgraceful amounts of hair, and the Furminator does the trick. The British, who is cranky, purrs more for the Furminator than he does for me. However, a friend's cat reacted quite badly and went all bitey when we tried it on him.

$20 vs. the time spent vacuuming = worth it, at least here.
posted by catlet at 10:08 AM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: Ahh. So much to say, I will come back.

But build a Cat Run. It's just a good idea in evey way you could think of!! They're not on the road, fighting other cats, eating the neighbors birds ect. ect. ect.
Scruff likes to go and make friends though but we compromise.

(She's fucking grounded at the moment though. For sitting on the roof laughing whille her Catty-Mummy called and shook bikkies for hours (woke up SO out of desperation) and then sat out in the garden sobbing because my poor Scuffy little Girl... Then the little Haggis jumps down about 30mins later, fucking hil-arious, so she's grounded. Until we move.)

For everyone concerned - Cat Runs are good!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2008

Response by poster: Never heard of a cat run before but did a quick google. They seem seriously cool. But probably more like a long-term project.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:08 PM on April 7, 2008

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