The scoop on cats

MILFORD – Cats are not solitary creatures, as some people think. They’re sensitive, and above all, they need to feel secure.

Monique Chretieu, an animal behavior consultant from Dracut, Mass., gave a slide presentation about creating a happy life for your pet before a standing-room-only audience in the Wadleigh Memorial Library’s conference room recently.

To give cats that security, Chretieu said, it’s essential to address their social and physical environments.

Take the litter box. Research shows that cats like big, high-sided boxes without hoods, Chretieu said, and deep litter, preferably with fine, unscented sand.

The box should be kept it in a quiet spot, away from noisy appliances. A corner with multiple escape routes is best, away from the feeding area, and have one box per cat, plus an extra one.

Scoop daily, clean the box weekly or biweekly, and buy a new box each year.

Do be careful about what kind of cleaning product you use – some have chemicals that contribute to liver and neurological problems, Chretieu said.

“If cats don’t feel safe, they will not use the litter and will find somewhere else to pee and poo,” she said.

Along with a litter box, cat owners always need to provide scratching materials because all cats need to stretch and scratch to keep their muscles toned and to get rid of the outer sheath of their claws, Chretieu said.

Placing scratching materials next to the cat’s sleeping area is good, and away from high-traffic areas.

There was a lot of interaction between Chretieu and her audience, with questions about how to keep a cat from scratching the furniture. Squirting water “can put a damper on the relationship” with your cat, said Chretieu, who recommends using big, flat sheets of sticky material, because cats tend to avoid anything that makes their paws feel strange.

One person in the audience said it works great, and another said his cat simply ripped it off. Chretieu recommended taping aluminum foil onto the area to be protected or using a smell the cat finds offensive.

Declawing cats is “barbaric,” she said, because it’s an amputation that leaves lasting pain.

One woman said her cat bites when it plays with people, and that her son wants to crack down on its bad behavior. Chretieu said trying to control or punish the cat will only make the biting worse.

Cat carriers are essential equipment, and you should get your cat accustomed to it before you have to use it.

“Let them spend some time inside,” she said. “Leave the door open and make it welcoming with a towel or blanket and with a favorite person’s scent.”

Take the cat for a pleasant trial run out to the car and back into the house, and later, “make a short, happy trip to a cat-friendly veterinarian,” Chretieu said.

Lastly, cats need stimulation through play, and some protected time outside is good, too.

“Let the kibble scatter,” she said, so the cat can hunt for it, and check out food puzzles for cats because “dead prey is no fun.”

The slide presentation showed novel ways to provide feline rest areas around the house, such as nailing a bureau drawer to a wall so the animal can be cozy and elevated. Or make a tent bed with hangers, a shirt and a cushion.

Cats are both predator and prey, and should only be let outside if they are supervised, Chretieu said, showing pictures of pet enclosures for decks and porches.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or