If there's one thing you can count on at the SPCA Albrecht Center, it's that we have plenty of cats available for adoption. Especially this time of year. "Kitten Season" is the time of year, usually between April and August, when animal shelters can easily become overwhelmed with newly born or young kittens due to the spring and summer surge of unaltered cat breeding.
So far this kitten season, we've seen nearly 200 cats and kittens enter our doors. Add to that the many cats and kittens already in our care, plus 3-4 months of kitten season to go, and that's a lot of cats to care for and eventually place into loving forever homes.
With that many cats around, it helps to have some feline-focused people on staff. One staff member in particular is the person we all turn to with our kitten quandaries and cat conundrums.
Emily Smith is the resident cat lady and official cat care specialist of the SPCA Albrecht Center. This week, I sat down with her to answer some frequently asked questions about cat care and behavior.
What's the best way to introduce a new cat into a home with dogs?
If you haven't adopted yet, consider an adult cat who has lived with dogs before or a kitten since they become accustomed to new things easier. In general though, the dog has to be friendly and non-aggressive. Make sure the cat has an area, preferably high up, to distance herself from the dog. Give the cat treats whenever she's around the dog so she associates the dog's presence with a positive experience. Be patient; this process can take from a few weeks to a few months before the cat is totally comfortable with the dog.
Should I leave dry food out for my cat 24/7 or serve him regular meal times?
Free feeding can be detrimental to a cat's health – it goes against their hunting instinct, so they can easily overeat. Plus, cats prefer schedules and routines. If you are not able to be home for regular meal times, consider an automatic feeder with a timer. You can also leave dry food in toys hidden around the house for your cat to "hunt" and find when he gets hungry or in puzzle feeders that make them think while they eat.
My cat is ripping my furniture to shreds! What can I do?
Scratching is normal cat behavior and not necessarily something you want to stop. Cats scratch to groom their claws and to mark territory. To save your furniture though, give them better options like scratching posts placed near the furniture. Attraction and repellant sprays are available to show them where and where not to scratch. You can also purchase nail caps that can be applied by most groomers. Declawing should never be considered as a scratching solution. If you absolutely must have a declawed cat, check animal shelters for cats who were declawed prior to their arrival.
Is it okay to let my indoor cat outside?
I don't recommend it. If your cat has lived indoors for most or all of her life, don't expect her to return if she's allowed outside. For cats, the outside world is full of curiosities that can pull her far enough away from home to become lost and lead her to dangers like traffic, coyotes and weather elements that she's not accustomed to. If you want your cat to experience the great outdoors, try harness training. And check with your veterinarian about additional vaccinations that an outdoor cat needs.
I'm caring for a feral cat outside. What tips can you offer to help socialize and domesticate her?
Lots of patience! The more you feed her, the more she will get used to you. Sit outside with her and use the "slow blink" method: make eye contact with soft eyes and blink slowly. This communicates to the cat that you're not a threat and can be trusted. Offer her treats – she'll begin to associate you with good experiences. Be patient and keep in mind that not all feral cats are willing to become domesticated.
Emily also offered this advice when bringing a newly adopted cat into your home: Set them up for success – instead of turning them lose in a new home, give the cat a small space of their own at first, like a quiet bedroom or bathroom away from your other pets. Give them time to get used to the smells and sounds of their new home. Make sure the litter box is nearby but in a location where you will keep it permanently, then slowly allow them to expand their space and begin supervised introductions to other pets.
Do you have cat care and behavior questions for Emily? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll be happy to help.