Feline Focus: How to Choose the Right Companion Cat


Reggie, adoptable at our Boston shelter.

Living in a multi-cat household can be extremely rewarding. Contrary to popular belief, cats are highly social creatures that benefit from feline companionship. Cats will often play together, groom each other, and give each other much-needed socialization. So if you’re considering adopting a new feline pal, here are some tips for finding the “purrfect” match:

A New Cat or a Companion Cat?

It is important to know the reason why you’re looking to adopt a new cat. Is the cat for you, or is it a friend for your resident cat? If the former, then the cats only have to tolerate each other and be able to share territory peacefully. If the latter, then you’re looking for a cat who will be interacting with and getting along with your resident cat. If that is the case, then whichever feline you choose must be a good match for your cat, with your own preferences coming in second.

Kitten or Adult?

Age isn’t so important. It’s often thought to be easier to integrate a kitten into a household simply because they are less threatening to a resident cat than an adult. However, there are plenty of adult cats who would make great companions, and because feline personality doesn’t begin to solidify until a cat is about 8 months old, it is easier to make a good match with an adult.

The most important thing is to match energy level/playfulness and personality. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How energetic is my cat? How often does he/she need to play?
  2. What type of play does my cat like? Is he/she very athletic, or more mellow during playtime?
  3. Is my cat outgoing or shy?
  4. Has my cat had previous experience living with or meeting other cats? How has he/she reacted?

For older, less playful cats, a kitten might not be the best choice. Kittens are in constant motion and might aggravate a mellower cat. A kitten might also not do well with an extremely active resident cat who could accidentally hurt a kitten during play.

Male or Female?

With spayed and neutered pets, certain pairings are easier, in general, to integrate. In order:

  • Male/Male companionship is the easiest
  • Male/Female is intermediate
  • Female/Female is more difficult

Female cats can sometimes be more territorial with each other than (neutered) male cats. However, there are always exceptions. There are female cats who come into the shelter who are wonderful with other cats, and there are males who refuse to like other cats, so always ask a staff member or volunteer about a particular cat you’re interested in!

At the Adoption Center

When you’re adopting a companion cat, it’s important to let a volunteer or staff person know about your resident feline. We’re happy to help you pick out the best match and we know our cats pretty well!

For instance, every Monday in our Boston adoption center, we have cat playgroup in which we test our cats’ compatibility with each other. We then place them into groups depending on their interactions (such as, Group 1 for cats who like other cats and love to play, and Group 2 for cats who like other cats but are more mellow). We also often have information on cats from previous owners.

Making your home a multi-cat home can be a great experience, and can add enrichment and socialization for your resident cat. But for the best chance of success it’s important to make a good match.

Feline Focus: Keeping Your Cat Fit & Healthy

Beyla, currently available for adoption, will need to start a weight loss program in her new home.

Beyla, currently available for adoption, will need to start a weight loss program in her new home.

Chubby kitties might look cute, but those extra pounds can be a serious health risk for your cat, putting them at risk for dangers such as diabetes, fur matting, osteoarthritis, and respiratory issues, among others. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your cat healthy and active and help them to shed the extra pounds!

1. Don’t Overfeed
Some cats are great grazers, while others don’t have the ability to regulate their own food intake. A cat in the wild would first have to hunt and kill its food, which takes time and energy. But for our spoiled pets, it’s up to us to regulate their diet. You can start by reading the recommended portions from your food brand. Even if your cat grazes throughout the day, you should not put down more than a day’s serving at a time. If you have multiple cats that can’t share, try feeding them in separate rooms with the door closed during designated meal times. Also limit the number of treats you give each day. Save them as a special reward for when your cat does something good (like staying still for nail trimming or after a long snuggle session)!

2. Exercise Your Cat, Physically & Mentally
If your cat is constantly crying for food (and you’re feeding them plenty), then chances are they’re not actually hungry. They might just be bored, and if food time is the most interesting part of their day, that will become their default need. Next time your cat cries and it’s not dinner time, take a ten minute break from whatever you’re doing and start up a game instead!

Don’t know how to engage your cat in play? Every cat likes a different toy and it can be hard to find that one they go crazy for. Some cats might seem like they are stubborn and uninterested in playing at all. Don’t let that fool you! Start by buying a small selection of a variety of toys (fuzzy mice, bell balls, wand toys, etc.) and see which interests them the most. Then, make the game as fun as can be! It’s important that you play to your cat’s hunting instincts. Dangling a feather in their face is more annoying than fun. Instead, show your cat the feather and then slowly drag it behind the corner of a wall or piece of furniture and watch your cat spring into action! Just as they get close, lift the feather up into the air and see if they leap for it.

When you figure out your cat’s favorites, keep them novel. Try rotating toys every few days. Your cat will forget the hidden toys even existed until they magically appear again!

3. Make Food Time Fun
If your cat acts like it hasn’t eaten in days when it’s only be a few hours since their last meal, it’s important to make food time last as long as possible (which will also help their stomachs feel full). A great way to do this is with a food puzzle, which you can buy, make from a yogurt container, or even an egg carton.

You can also use dry food to train your cat. Dinner time is a great time to do this because your cat is more motivated. Take half of your cat’s dry food and make it sit, climb, or touch for a piece of kibble (clickers work great for training cats, but it’s important to learn the proper techniques first!). When everything is gone, you can reward your cat with the other half of its dinner portion. (Remember, any food you use for training should be accounted for in your cat’s daily caloric intake.)

4. When in Doubt, Ask a Vet
If you’re not sure where to begin on your cat’s weight-loss program, or if you need to reduce portions or change brands of food, be sure to consult a vet. If you suddenly cut your cat’s portions dramatically or switch types of food, your cat might stop eating – which is not good either! A veterinarian can help you come up with a systematic program to get your cat back on track to a healthy lifestyle.

Feline Focus: Three Ways to Recycle for Your Cat

Let’s face it: pet products can get expensive. But we sometimes forget that keeping our pets healthy and entertained doesn’t have to put a burden on your wallet. So in honor of keeping things green, here are three easy ways to recycle with your feline in mind:

blog_egg carton1. Food Puzzle Egg Carton

Yes, it’s really that easy. Just take some of your cat’s favorite dry food and sprinkle it into an empty egg carton. It immediately becomes a food puzzle as your cat figures out how to get the food!

Food puzzles are a great way to stimulate your cat’s problem-solving skills while giving it an active way to obtain dinner. Food puzzles are a great way to have your cat burn a few extra calories while slowing down food intake to prevent vomiting.

blog_castle2. Cardboard Castle

Sure, your cat will most likely hop into a cardboard box without any alterations. But why not turn it into a more sophisticated kitty playground? By taping it closed and cutting out a couple doors and windows, it will add fun to playtime as your cat tries to grab at toys through the holes. Put a couple boxes together and you could have your very own cat jungle gym!

And when your cat is no longer interested or you need to clear out some space, it’s easy to recycle and make a new one.blog_scratcher

3. Home-made Scratching Post

Have a lot of leftover cardboard from the holidays? While this project takes a bit of time (several hours for the larger sized scratcher), it costs hardly anything to make and will last! Take a box such as an empty can tray (pictured) or go smaller with an empty tissue box. Carefully cut strips of cardboard (from discarded packaging or clean recycling) and glue them together with any type of non-toxic glue. Then add a dash of catnip and your cat will be happily scratching where its supposed to!

See below for more stories from our Feline Focus series:

Feline Focus: The Perfect Nail Trim

When it’s time for that monthly manicure, some cats sit quietly as their claws are lovingly clipped, while others run as far as they can the moment they glimpse those scissors. Regardless, it’s important to maintain your cat’s claws, as overgrown nails can snag, break, or even curl back into the paw (polydactyl, or extra-toed, cats are particularly prone to this). Here are some step-by-step instructions, as well as tips & tricks for getting the most out of your nail-trimming experience.

Selecting the Scissors
Not all nail trimmers are created equal. It’s important to buy a pair that is specifically designed for cats, as opposed to ones for dogs or humans. However, it’s not essential to pay for the more expensive types of trimmers. You can find ones that are spring loaded and require less force to trim, but they are bulkier to handle. There are even electric trimmers that file down the claws instead of cutting, but are often loud and scary to unaccustomed cats. However, a nice, small pair of metal trimmers will do just fine, and because they’re cheap, you can buy a new pair when they finally get too dull.

Preparing the Cat
The key is making the nail trim as pleasurable as possible for all parties involved. If you can, leave the scissors out or next to your cat’s food bowl a day or two before, so that the cat doesn’t immediately associate them with the act of trimming.

Have a treat ready (but hidden) for after, so that the cat is rewarded by something tasty, instead of being rewarded by immediate escape.

When you’re spending leisurely time with a lazy feline, take the opportunity to gently massage and touch your cat’s paws. Especially if your cat is squeamish or gets defensive during trims, this will help acclimatize your cat to the sensation of someone else controlling their claws. Keep these sessions short and in between regular petting so that it slowly becomes part of relaxation!

The Trimming
Step 1: Put gentle pressure on one of your cat’s paws so that the claws extend. Concentrate the pressure on the individual toe you are trimming.

Step 2: Use the scissors to trim the nail being sure to avoid the quick (see diagram). It’s better to cut less of the nail than accidentally trim too much.

Step 3: If you do accidentally get the quick, don’t panic! Your cat is less likely to freak out if you don’t. Calmly apply some styptic powder or baking soda to the nail to stop the bleeding. If the nail is still bleeding after a few attempts to stop it, call the vet.

Step 4: Trim each nail individually. Usually, the back paws don’t need as much maintenance, and may only need trimming every other month. But always check to be sure.

Tips & Tricks
It’s less stressful for your cat to have its nails trimmed at home instead of being taken to a vet or groomer (unless it’s part of a larger vet or grooming appointment). If you’re unsure of trimming, or you own a particularly reluctant cat, here are some tips for success:

  • Practice several times on an “easy” cat first. Ask friends and neighbors if their cat is a pro at nail trimming (one that will sit calmly and not react at all to the procedure). That way, you can master the technique before trying on your own.
  • It’s important to complete the trim as quickly as possible, while still being accurate and careful. Again, practice makes perfect!
  • For cats that run away or become aggressive during trimming, make sure you leave the scissors in your cat’s favorite places so that they become less associated with the act of trimming.
  • Start with trimming one nail and giving a treat reward. Then don’t trim again for a day or two. Only when your cat sits still for one nail, should you begin trimming two in a row. It may seem like a pointless effort—the nails grow back before you’ve finished trimming them all!—but patience will pay off.
  • Nail trims may never be as easy with some cats as it is with others, but you can work up to a point where your cat will allow you to complete one paw at a time, and you’ll walk away unscathed!
  • Always provide scratching posts for your cat. The more places your cat is allowed to scratch, the better he or she will be able to maintain their claws on their own.

Check out our entire Feline Focus series:
Meet Mystic
How to Train Your Cat to ‘Sit

Summer Treats
Food Puzzles

Feline Focus: How to Train Your Cat to ‘Sit’

Bacardi sitting

Training isn’t just for the dogs! When you teach your cat a “trick,” you are teaching her/him good manners and self-control, as well as providing ever-important mental stimulation. There is no end to what a cat can learn, but for now we’ll start with the basics. And don’t worry—teaching a cat to sit on command is easier than you’d think!

Step 1: Pick a Location
You want your cat to be focused on you, so make sure you’re in a room where there are no distractions. If you have more than one cat, separate them and work with one cat at a time. It’s often helpful to place the cat on a table where he/she is at a more accessible level.

Step 2: Pick a Treat
Make sure you’re using a food reward that your cat enjoys. Pick the one thing she can’t resist, such as commercial treats or small pieces of cooked, unseasoned meat. If your cat is extremely food motivated, you may be able to simply use pieces of dry food. Be sure to adjust your cat’s mealtime proportions if you are feeding lots of treats during training.

Step 3: The Training
Once you have your location and your food reward set, get your cat’s attention by showing him (but not giving him!) the treat. Then raise the treat just above and behind his nose, so that he must sit in order to reach it. If you’re having trouble, make sure your cat’s focus is on the treat, and then slowly arch your hand over his head until it’s about 90 degrees to the ground. As soon as he is in a full sit position, say “sit” and present him with the treat.

Tips & Tricks

  • If your cat succeeds, repeat this about 4–6 times until your cat has the hang of it. Stop before your cat gets bored, in order to keep the training fun and something she wants to keep doing!
  • If your cat isn’t getting it, don’t worry! Some cats take longer to train than others. Be patient and keep your training sessions to no more than 10 minutes, and your cat should eventually pick it up.
  • If you have multiple cats, train each one separately. Then, when each cat is proficient, try both together. Ask them to “sit,” and once both are fully seated, reward both with a treat.

What Next?
Now it’s time to impress your friends and guests! Have your feline show off her skills, and encourage others to try the “sit” command with your cat.

You can also have your cat sit for his breakfast and/or dinner, sit before being given a toy, or whenever you need his focus!

Did you like this post?
Be sure to check out our entire Feline Focus series:

Feline Focus: Food Puzzles

When mealtime is one of the major events of your cat’s lazy day, don’t let it be boring! Have fun by turning dinner time into play time with food puzzles–they aren’t just for dogs! Mental stimulation is an important part of keeping an indoor cat happy, and what better way to make that kitty brain think than have it work for its favorite thing, food?

Is a Food Puzzle Right for My Cat?
When considering introducing a food puzzle to a cat, ask yourself: how food motivated is my cat? If he/she is running into the kitchen, meowing or pawing at your leg for his dinner, then chances are he’ll benefit from a food puzzle! Or if your cat goes crazy for treats, you can use food puzzles for treat time instead. There are a few commercial brands of cat food puzzles you can buy that work great, but you can also make one yourself.

How to Make Your Own Food Puzzle:

  1. Take an empty yogurt container (preferably a brand that has a plastic lid; or use any cylindrical container that has a lid and is soft enough to cut through). Carefully using a sharp knife or scissors, cut two holes on either side of the container.
  2. Use duct tape or sandpaper to soften the edges of the holes (make sure there are no sharp bits!)
  3. Place food inside and put the lid back on!

Be sure to thoroughly clean the container before using it, and always check homemade items for potentially hazardous materials before giving them to your cat. When first giving your cat a new item, be sure to supervise.

What If My Cat Doesn’t Like It Or Won’t Use It?
Some cats get the hang of food puzzles quickly, but others might stare at you wondering what on earth they’re supposed to do. For reluctant learners, you can start by using a large yogurt container and cutting big holes (big enough that the cat’s entire paw can fit inside). It may seem too easy–one good knock over, and most of the food has spilled out, but what your cat is learning is that if they push the container, they get food. Once your cat is a pro at that, move down to a smaller yogurt container. Once that is mastered, a commercial, weighted food puzzle will be a worthy purchase–or try cutting the holes so that your homemade food puzzle is more challenging!

Why Food Puzzles?
–Indoor cats generally have less activities to keep them mentally stimulated throughout the day. Having them work for food gives them a puzzle to solve and keeps their brains active.
–Cats who are prone to eating too fast and suffer from stomach upset/vomiting can use food puzzles as a way to slow down their food intake.
–Food puzzles give your cat some more exercise–and help keep them at a healthy weight!

Are You Sure Cats Really Use Food Puzzles?
Yes! Check out these photos of an ARL alum learning how to use a food puzzle, and a recent video of him enjoying a satisfying dinner as a food puzzle pro!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uoIZBhOe5Y&w=420&h=315]

Adopting a Cat? Think Older!

Right now we’re in kitten season, which means there are lots of adorable kittens waiting for their forever homes. But while all of our shelter animals need to be adopted, it’s important not to forget the amazing older cats who are often overlooked among their tiny-pawed companions.

There are many reasons why older cats make fantastic pets, but here are just a few:

  •  Cat personalities don’t begin to solidify until at least eight months of age, so it’s difficult to tell what type of cat your kitten will turn into in terms of playfulness, energy level, sociability, desire to sit in your lap, etc. With an adult cat you can pick and choose all of your favorite traits!
  • The older the cat, the less work they tend to be. A cat that has matured doesn’t mind so much if you’re at work all day, and is much more likely to sleep through the night. If you don’t like being woken up early, you definitely want to think adult!
  • Older cats know that you’ve rescued them and give tons of love and thanks in return.
  • Indoors cats can live on average between 16 and 18 years. Some can even live into their twenties! So a 7-year-old shelter cat is only just middle-aged. Even a 13-year-old cat could remain happy and healthy for the next five years! Particularly for first-time adopters, consider your own ability to commit to the rest of an animal’s life.
  • If you’re worried that an older cat means more medical bills, consider that even with a kitten you should be prepared to pay for unforeseen medical issues. All of our shelter animals get a full health check by our veterinarian, so we’re able to inform you about any long-term health care your pet might need.
  • Lastly, opening your home to an adult cat is extremely rewarding. There are great cats that spend weeks or even months at the shelter, simply because they get overlooked.

When it’s time to add a new member to your feline family, be sure to ask our staff and volunteers what type of cat (age, personality, etc.) would be a good match for your lifestyle. We’ve spent lots of time getting to know each animal, and are happy to help you start a relationship that will last!

Here are some of our wonderful adult cats currently waiting for their forever homes at our Boston shelter:

Whiskers (pictured above, 13 years): very calm & mellow, easy to handle, looking for a quiet home
Ginger Root (9 years): affectionate & charming
Teddy (9 years): shy & gentle
Princess (7 years): lovebug & lap cat, loves other cats
Bruno (6 years): playful & outgoing, loves other cats
Abby (6 years): talkative, people-oriented

Feline Focus: Summer Treats

With the upcoming sweltering temperatures, it’s important to keep your feline out of the heat. One great way for them to cool down is with frozen food – either as a treat or as a meal. While there is a variety of pet “ice cream” products you can buy at the store, here’s an easy (and healthy) way to do-it-yourself!

What you will need:
6oz can wet cat food
8oz cold water
1/3 cup dry cat food
treats (optional)*
ice cube tray

1. Evenly place dry food in clean, empty ice cube tray.
2. Mix wet food with water in a bowl.
3. Spoon wet food/water mix into ice cube tray on top of dry food.
4. Freeze.

*You can also add to the recipe! Try a few cat treats, cooked unseasoned chicken pieces, peanut butter – anything your cat already loves.

Tips and Tricks:
-If your cat seems uninterested at first, try adding some extra wet food on top of the ice cube treat to get them started. Soon, they’ll come running whenever you open the freezer!

-Always supervise your pet when trying new types of treats.

-Always have fresh water available, especially during the summer. A major sign of overheating in cats is panting. If you see your cat panting, take them to a cool place immediately. You can also try wiping their paws with a wet cloth, since the evaporation will help lower their body temperature.