Category Archives: How To’s

Scratching Recommendations, Feline

Recommendations to Prevent Scratching
By Dr. Karen Burgess

  • Scratching post-  How can I get my cat to use its post

      Since cats use their scratching posts for marking and stretching, posts should be set up in prominent areas, with at least one close to the cat’s sleeping quarters. The post should be tall enough for the cat to scratch while standing on hind legs with the forelegs extended and sturdy enough so that it does not topple when scratched. Some cats prefer a scratching post with a corner so that two sides can be scratched at once while other cats may prefer a horizontal scratching post. Commercial posts are often covered with tightly woven material for durability, but many cats prefer a loosely woven material where the claws can hook and tear during scratching. Remember that scratching is also a marking behavior and cats want to leave a visual mark. Carpet may be an acceptable covering but it should be combed first to make certain that there are no tight loops. Some cats prefer sisal, a piece of material from an old chair, or even bare wood for scratching. Be certain to use a material that appeals to your cat.

      Every time the pet approaches the post, toss a very small treat to it. When it touches the post, toss a bigger treat, and when it scratches give it several treats. The pet should be within eyesight of a family member at all times. Whenever it starts to scratch furniture, the behavior can be interrupted with a water gun or toss a bean bag tossed near it. The family member shouldn’t say anything or look at the pet when this is done. Anything that is exceptionally startling for the pet or elicits a fear response should be avoided. Whenever the cat can’t be watched (out of the home, busy or sleeping), it should be confined to a room without objects that it will likely scratch except its scratching post. Once it is frequently scratching the post on its own, freedom without supervision can gradually be allowed.

  • Trim nailsStart trimming early and often to get the cat used to nail care. Combine with stinky cat food (e.g. Fancy Feast) to help the cat realize nail trims are not so bad.  Ideally trim every 2-4 weeks.
  • Feliway spray– a synthetic “happy” pheromone that comes in spray and diffuser.  Discourages cats from scratching in areas where applied.
  • Double sided tape or Sticky Paws-applied to areas where cat is scratching may discourage behavior.
  • Innotek SSSCAT or doorknob alarm (available at travel stores)
    A motion detector that hisses when the cat approaches the problem area.  Even the most fearless of cats clear the area when it activates.
  • Vinyl carpet runner
    The back-side of a vinyl carpet runner (that has a very prickly feel) can be cut and placed in the areas that you want your cat to avoid.
  • Solid air fresheners, strong citurs fragrance/cologne, spray anti-perspirant
    Cats dislike perfume.  An air freshener may keep the cat away from an area until it has evaporated.  (Never put it near the litter box or a feeding area).  Scented dryer sheets may have the same effect.
  • Pavlov’s Cat Scratch Feeder-product rewards pet with food when they use scratching post.
  • Microfiber-reportedly is resistant to cat scratch damage and resilient for washings.
  • Hang a towel over the side of the furniture with six empty aluminum cans on top of the towel. When the cat scratches, the cans will tumble down.
  • Attach balloons to the side of the furniture. Hang a short ribbon on each balloon so the cat will swat at the ribbon and pop the balloon.
  • Cover the furniture with plastic or canvas drop cloths.
  • Softpaws Blunt acrylic nail caps are glued onto the cat’s claws. The idea is that the blunt nail will not be sharp enough to cause damage.  The nail caps will wear off but not at the same time. After a couple of weeks some of the nails will be capped and others will not be. The nail caps must be replaced as the nail grows out.  Some cats are not in the least discouraged from scratching by these caps and are able to simply scratch larger holes in the upholstery.

Building a Sisal Wrapped Scratching Post

This scratching post has been cat tested and approved by various felines. If you would rather buy this scratching post already made, SmartCat makes a sisal post called the Ultimate Scratching Post.  The reasoning behind this cat post is simple. A post should be as high as your cat is tall when he is fully stretched out plus a few inches. The post should also be wide enough that your cat can sit on top and survey his surroundings. The base should be sturdy enough that the post will not tip over. Once a post tips over on a cat it is very hard to convince a cat to use the post again. The post should be wrapped with sisal rope because cats like something to dig their nails into. (Picture below)

Supplies needed:

  •       One (1) cedar post that is about 30″ tall and at least 4″ in diameter
  •       A bundle of non-oiled sisal rope measuring a 1/2″ wide
  •       A piece of 3/4″ plywood to make the base sturdy (at least 16 x 16 diameter)
  •       1/2″ roofing nails
  •       Four (4) 3/4″ 16d coated sinker nails


Before beginning, make sure the post is dry so that there will not be any shrinking of the post after the sisal is wrapped on. Wear a pair of work gloves when you wrap the sisal around the post. Nail the beginning of your rope all the way around the top of the post. Then wind the rope around and around and around the post very tightly so that there is no air space between the pieces of rope. When at the bottom, once again nail the end of the rope all the way around the bottom of the post. Next nail the base on to the post, use at least four nails and pound them through the bottom of the plywood base and into the bottom of the post.

Litterbox Article, Feline

 Litter Box Information
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Inappropriate elimination, or urinating/defecating outside of the litter box, is one of the primary reasons cats are relinquished to shelters.  While a common issue when a cats are faced with stress, anxiety, or pain, inappropriate urination has many causes and thus many potential solutions.

As a human, we flush the toilet after every use.  A cat’s sense of smell is more sensitive than ours, so having to walk through a soiled litter box is a less than appealing prospect for naturally clean loving cats.  In the wild, felines find a new area to eliminate avoiding this issue.  In the home it is then understandable how a small box may become far less appealing than the “open land” found in a living room, closet, or under the bed.

When first faced with a litter box issue, contact your veterinarian to discuss possible medical causes.  Cats do not like associating pain with their elimination location so bladder infections, arthritis, or constipation can all contribute to a litter box aversion.  Also remember that punishment is never recommended for soiling issues.  It does not address the problem and may increase stress making the problem worse.

Top reasons that cats stop using the litter box:

  • Dirty litter box
  • Litter box style (too small, covered)
  • Litter type (odor, consistency)
  • Too few litter boxes in household
  • Medical problems
  • Behavioral issues
  • Litter box environment (sounds, lack of privacy, surrounding texture, lighting)
  • Landlocked litter box (no escape route if cat is startled or frightened, i.e. by housemates.

Dirty Litter Box

  • Litter box should be scooped at least twice daily
  • Cats can smell even the smallest amount of urine.  Clumping litter allows liquid and solid waste to be removed completely. Non clumping litter allows adequate removal of feces but not urine.  Kittens younger than 8 weeks of age may do better in the short run with non clumping litter.
  • Litter boxes should be completely emptied of litter and cleaned (vinegar and water) every 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Proper cleaning technique-for excrement to be completely removed it needs to essentially be in a ball.  If residual urine or fecal matter is being scraped from the bottom of the litter pan this is not clean in a cat’s mind.  Proper litter depth is essential allowing for the scoop to go below the clump and elevate it completely.  If litter/matter is stuck to the side of the box, push the litter from the side of the box, spray the area with 1 part bleach to 30 parts water solution and wipe with a paper towel.  When dry, re-spread litter.

Litter Box Style/Size

  • Covered litter boxes are appealing to humans but are often a turn off to cats.  While the covered box size may be similar to a regular box, the “hood” does not allow a cat to hang their head over the side making it a more confining space.  This also may force cats to change their posture for elimination (“scrunch up”) which in some cases can cause discomfort.  Covered boxes limit visibility which can be frightening and lead to a feeling of entrapment.  This can be a significant concern in households where all feline members do not get along.  Combine all of these factors with increased odor retention, increased dust exposure, and inability for owners to see a dirty box and one can quickly see why covered boxes are not optimal.
  • Bigger is better when it comes to litter boxes.  A cat should be able to turn around completely in their box and not touch the sides.  A good sized box should be a minimum of 22” by 16”.  Consider non-conventional litter boxes such as plastic storage containers.


  • Added scents or perfumes are made appeal to humans, not to cats.  In some cases, these additives can be an aversion.  Look for unscented, carbon based clumping cat litter (Examples-Fresh Step Perfume and Dye Free, Ever Clean Unscented, Scoop Away Free, read labels carefully).  The best way to control odor is frequent cleaning of the litter box.
  • Litter should be 4 inches deep.

Litter Box Numbers

  • There should be at least one more litter box than the number of cats in the household.  Often cats will avoid a litter box that has been used by another cat while other cats may choose to use one box for urination and one for defecation.

Litter Box Location

  •  Litter boxes should be located in quiet low traffic areas away from food and water bowls.  Ideally they should not be cornered, meaning a cat using the litter box should feel as though they have at least two viable exit strategies (i.e. doors, vertical jumping spots) if placed in a frightening situation.
  • Avoid placing the litter box on unappealing textures that may cause discomfort for the cat as they enter the box.
  • If a house is multilevel, place a litter box on each level if possible.
  • When obtaining a new cat or kitten it is best to confine them to a smaller area until acclimated to the environment and litter box.  Over time gradually increase their free range allowing them to find their own way back to the litter box.

Storage Container Litter Box DIY

  • Consider making your own litter box using a large storage container or cement mixing container (approx. dimensions 19.5” W by 29.5” L by 19” H).  With a litter depth of 4”, the bottom of the door can be made at 8” from the ground.  The door should be approximately 9” by 9”.  Using the short side for the door can prevent unintentional urination out of the door.  As reference, 70-80# of litter will be required for the appropriate depth.


Ear Cleaning- How To

Ear Cleaning
By Dr. Karen Burgess

Before discussing how to clean your pet’s ears, it is first important to understand the basics

  • In most cases a healthy dog’s ears should not require “cleaning”.  The normal ear’s anatomy and physiology should stay clean on its own.
  • In some situations, ear cleanings are medically recommended.  Examples would include predisposition to ear infections (due to breed, anatomy, or underlying medical conditions), history of skin allergies, in the treatment of an existing ear infection, or to assist in drying out a wet ear (ex. after swimming or bathing).
  • Cleaning a diseased or infected ear is often painful and may require medications to help with this discomfort.
  • Signs of ear problems include head shaking, pawing at ears, bad odor, visible debris, or resentment of head petting.
  • Nothing, whether it be liquid or solid, should be placed in a pet’s ears without first consulting a veterinarian.  Some over the counter ear products are not only ineffective, but may actually be harmful.

Understanding the ear

  • The ear is really just a canal or tube lined by skin.  If a pet has underlying skin disease it is common to also have ear issues and it is fairly uncommon for a pet to just “get an ear infection”.  Instead it is often a sign of underlying skin disease or systemic allergies.
  • The anatomy of some breeds can affect the ear’s ability to stay healthy.  Whether it be a too narrow passage or an ear with excessive secretions these are typically lifelong issues.
  • The ear canal is L-shaped with a vertical and horizontal portion.  The vertical portion is visible to the naked eye, the horizontal portion is visible only via a veterinarian’s otoscope.  The tympanic membrane (TM) lies at the end of the horizontal canal.  Often a pet owner may see a normal appearing vertical canal while the otoscope may reveal a completely occluded horizontal canal.  To address ear disease both the vertical and horizontal portion of the ear must be treated while protecting the TM.  The TM or eardrum can be damaged by disease, medications, or objects placed into the ear (i.e. Qtips).  While the eardrum can heal, damage can also potentially affect hearing longterm.


Cleaning 101

  • If you feel you are not able to safely clean your pet’s ears, do not proceed.  Ear cleaning can be scary and painful which could potentially make a normally docile animal become aggressive.
  • Before starting, gather supplies: ear cleaner, cotton balls, towels, treats, old clothing.
  • Location, location, location-find an area where your pet can be confined.  An elevated surface or corner of a room often work well.  Having an extra pair of hands is often helpful.  For smaller animals a towel can be used to “burrito” wrap and better control the process.  For some really messy ears, cleaning outdoors may be preferable.

○     Soak two cotton balls fully with ear cleanerear4


○      Place cotton balls lightly into the visible vertical canal.  They will not get lost!



○      Hold the ear flap (also called the pinna) closed like a resealable bag.  Massage the base of the ear for 1 minute.

ear8○      Allow pet to shake head, this will cause the cotton balls, some cleaner, and typically abnormal ear debris to come flying out.  The act of shaking and the centripetal force involved are far more effective at cleaning out the ears than any wiping could ever be.

○      Dry outer ear lightly.



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