Tips and Tricks

It has come to my attention that this page has attracted a following of people who visit from time to time. Thank you. TIPS AND TRICKS is a section in which I will try to give you some ideas on cat care and maybe give you a good web site to look at from time to time. The most recent postings will always be first. Please remember, I am not a veterinarian and I am not a professional animal trainer. The information included herein is shared as a public service. Any use of the information contained herein shall be by your own judgment and at your own risk. Margo Elson and Friends of Alley Cats of Tucson (FACT) shall bear no liability whatsoever for any negative use or negative results from the use of the information included herein.


It had to happen, sooner or later. has partnered with and now you can post videos of your favorite cat, dog, horse, ferret, gerbil online for others to enjoy. You can also view videos about animal care and training. Check it out! VISIT PETVIDEO.COM

Taking Care Of Your Refrigerator

What does this have to do with cat care? Plenty. Your fridge has a compressor and motor similar to the one on your air conditioner but much smaller. The motor has a fan, also just like the AC.. The whole unit sits very close to the floor. When the compressor is on and the fan is running it sucks dust, animal hair and all sorts of debris into the unit where it builds up on the compressor, the fan, the motor and all the wiring. This can cause overheating and eventual early burnout of your compressor and/or motor. I had a nice man named Norbert come over LAST year to service my fridge. He showed me how to take the cover off and vacuum very carefully. You should see how much cat hair and gunk was wadded in there after years of neglect EVEN THOUGH I sweep the kitchen every day. Norbert told me to do this once a year. I recently serviced the unit myself, it’s easy once someone has shown you how. Happily it wasn’t anywhere near as dirty as it was last year. Anyone who has pets should have their refrigerator serviced and be taught how to do it in subsequent years. As an aside, did you know that your fridge will use much less electricity if you keep it FULL? Stands to reason: cold or frozen food is its own insulator and the more it fills a space the less frequently that space has a rise in temperature necessitating the compressor to kick on in order to cool it back down.

 Bottle Feeding Infant Kittens

This is so much fun. If you would like some tips from someone who has honed her skill by trial and error, feel free to call 520-850-0001.

 Wonderful Site for Veterinary Information

The ASPCA has a site called Ani-Med. Ani-Med is a wellspring for all sorts of good information about your pets’ health. Here is a link to the page about Dogs and Cats. There are other pages available for all sorts of other domestic companions. Please remember, no web site is intended to replace good hands-on care from your veterinarian. CHECK OUT ANI-MED.

 Vaccinate Your Pets

It is becoming clear to me that there is a certain percentage of people out there who do not vaccinate their pets. Whether or not you want your pet to come down with distemper, parvo (dogs), feline leukemia, FIV or some other pesky, usually fatal disease, is up to you. These diseases are not transmissible to human beings. Rabies, however, IS transmissible to human beings and it is 100% fatal once contracted. To own a dog and not vaccinate it against rabies is illegal in most jursidictions. To own a dog or cat and not vaccinate it for rabies, whether illegal or not, is just plain STUPID. Make that appointment today.

 Flea Sprays, Flea Collars and Similar Products

If your kitty lives indoors and doesn’t have fleas he or she does not need to wear a flea collar. Depending on where you live, if your kitty goes outside it may be useful to put a flea collar on him or her during certain times of the year. If you find it necessary to use a flea collar make sure you read the package instructions and ONLY use a flea collar intended for cats. Do NOT use a flea collar that is labelled for a dog no matter how well it may FIT. In the same vein do NOT buy a flea collar intended for a large sized dog and cut it down to fit your smaller dog. The collars are species and size specific. Believe it or not, you can overdose your dog or cat by using the wrong flea collar. These collars time release a very powerful insecticide. This insecticide is absorbed by the skin and has to be filtered out by the kidneys and the liver. A friend of mine lost a small dog because another individual put the wrong dose flea collar on it. The insecticide caused liver damage and the dog was lost. In the same vein, do not use a spot-on product or spray that is labeled for dogs on your cat. Don’t do it.

 Litter Box Violations

Cats have an innate tendency to bury their waste. 4 week old little kittens “understand” that when you put them in the litter box you want them to drop their little tushies and “go”. I start putting a small litter box (actually a Ziplock sandwich size container) in the crate of little kittens starting at about 3 1/2 weeks of age. They are often dry all day and then, just like children, they dribble at night when they are asleep and their bladder doesn’t wake them up. That isn’t to say that young kittens will never make a mistake. They are like little children, who will often keep playing, ignoring the signals from their bladder until it is too late and they wet their pants. For a little kitten, going outside the litter box is akin to a child wetting his pants. I have watched an entire litter of babies try to jump into the box at once. The last kitten, finding no room, peed right next to the box. For a baby, close enough. Not so for an adult cat. If your cat stops using the litter box it is a SYMPTOM and, as the owner, it is your responsibility to find out what it is a symptom of. See below for information on feline urinary problems and cat food. Cats who are developing a urinary tract infection often let you know that their bladders hurt by going outside the box. Take kitty to the vet. Often a simple course of antibiotics will put kitty back on target. Speaking of targets: How big has kitty gotten and how big is the litter box? At my house I use the big, deep Rubbermaid storage hampers, 12″ or higher and 18″ long for kitty litter. 6 week old kittens seem to enjoy climbing in there, even though there are smaller boxes available for their use. A large cat trying to use a small, shallow pan assumes that his hiney is over the box because all 4 of his feet are inside. With a small litter box that is not always the case. With a taller, bigger box, kitty can’t miss and, even if he stands up a little bit before he is done urinating, the pee hits the side of the box and doesn’t spray outside. Does kitty “go” in really inappropriate places like on your bed? Is he mad at you? Is there a new cat or human in the house and is the established cat marking territory? You may need to do some “social work”. At my house, where many cats have lived for many years, even though I have and use a carpet shampooer I am certain that there are spots on my now well-worn carpet where cats can identify “former mess”. If I notice “mistakes” being repeatedly made in the same place, I clean the area very well and when it is dry, I place a small bowl of dry cat food on the spot. Message? “This is a place to eat, not a place to go to the bathroom.” I would rather have little bowls of catfood in different places than repeated cat mistakes. Several years ago I noticed that little kittens liked to pee in my laundry basket. It occurred to me that they were “over generalizing”. WHAT? The litter boxes are open on the top and made of plastic. The laundry basket I was using was made of a similar material. When the kittens were playing in my bedroom the laundry basket was closer than a litter box when someone had to “go” and so that’s where they “went”. What I did was to switch to a big plastic hamper with a top. Over the top I put a blanket. Now my laundry basket is a place to cuddle and relax and there is no more confusion about whether it is a litter box or not.

 Premium vs. “Cheap” Cat Food

Remember the old FRAM Oil Filter commercial, “Pay me now or pay me later”? It’s the same with cat food. There are scads of inexpensive cat foods out there that cats just LOVE and will choose over the “premium” brands in a taste test, just as your kids will choose McFood over meatloaf, broccoli and mashed potatoes. So feed them what they like, it’s cheaper and both you and your cat are happy, right? WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Premium cat foods are formulated to give your cat all of the nutrition that he or she needs PLUS, and an important plus, they are correctly balanced as to pH and “ash”. PH is the balance of acid/base. Cats need a slightly acidic urine to help prevent urinary tract disease. ASH is the part of any product that is not consumed by burning, like ashes in the fireplace. Too much ash in catfood also contributes to feline urinary problems. Male cats are more succeptible to such problems than females although any cat can become “blocked”. A “blocked” cat cannot urinate and is a medical emergency. The treatment for FUS, or FLUTD, is extremely expensive if the cat can be saved at all. Yes, premium cat foods are more expensive. The “upside” is that they provide more dense nutrition and do not contain cheap carbohydrate “bulk” such as ground yellow corn. The cats actually eat LESS. An added benefit is that they produce much less stool and the stool they produce is dryer, smaller and less offensive than “cheap cat food poop”.


Cats have a social language just like people and many other creatures do. Next time you look a cat in the eyes notice that he or she blinks at you. This is a symbolic gesture, much like tipping a hat. It says, “I’m a carnivore but I have no intention of hurting you. Please don’t hurt me.” Blink back, it’s very good cat manners. Blink first and see kitty respond in kind. Most animals don’t like to be stared in the face. They take it as a threat. Be polite and avoid prolonged eye contact. Giving “first blinkies” to a cat in a trap or in some other upsetting situation tells them that they are safe and in good hands.


Unlike dogs, which need to be bathed from time to time, your cat is perfectly capable of keeping him or herself clean. They are fastidious and, if kept indoors, should nearly never need to be bathed. In the event that they do (One of my sister’s cats once knocked over some perfume, making himself smell not unlike a house of ill repute. He appreciated a bath.) MAKE IT BRIEF. Cats do not like to be wet. Ask your vet for a tube of plain ophthalmic ointment, the kind they use during surgery to keep the eyes moist. Put a little into each eye to avoid irritation. Cut Kitty’s nails. Here’s how I bathe Kitty: I have a bottle of BABY SHAMPOO and another empty shampoo bottle. I fill the empty bottle with about 1 inch of shampoo and the rest warm water and then shake it to mix. I stand Kitty in the kitchen sink on the side with the hose and GENTLY wet him with warm water. Kitty doesn’t like this and it would be a very convenient thing if you had a second person to help you. I never do. After Kitty is wet, I pour some of the shampoo/water mixture onto his back, starting at the base of the neck and down to the base of the tail. Then I gently wash Kitty all over, avoiding the head and face. I tell him what a good boy he is while I am washing him. It is really a silent prayer that he not shred my life. You will find that the diluted shampoo/water mixture cleans up Kitty just fine and takes much less effort to rinse out, shortening the time Kitty needs to be inconvenienced. (If you do this with your own shampoo you will use less shampoo and less water.) After I have washed and rinsed Kitty, I wrap him in a nice thick bath towel and hold him in my lap while I dry him off. I use the moist part of the towel to wipe off his face and head. FYI: One place kitties seem to have trouble keeping clean is their chinny-chin-chin. From time to time some of mine get little patches of feline acne. This is dirt/allergy based the vets tell me, not hormonal as human acne. It looks like a cluster of little blackheads or a greasy, dirty chin. You can help kitty keep the chin clean by wiping from time to time with a damp paper towel or washcloth. When the acne happens my vets have suggested that I clean it with a little of the herbal astringent “Witch Hazel”.


Just like people, cats can contract upper respiratory infections and, just like people, they become congested, sneeze and cough. Did you know that CHICKEN BROTH is just as soothing for them as it is for you? Until you can get them in to see the vet and while they are convalescing you can give them this treat right from the can or right from the pot if you make homemade. Read the label and do NOT give them any products that contain ONION. Onion can cause anemia in cats. Mine love to lap chicken broth, cool or warm, not hot. It acts as a decongestant, so they can breathe freely and smell other food, stimulating their appetite. It keeps them hydrated and the protein is good for them. With matzo balls? Well, they might like those for toys. (Note: I’m told that kitty colds and people colds are caused by different viruses. Your chance of catching your kitty’s cold or him catching yours are slim to none.)

 Taking Your Pet in the Car in the Summer

If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t. If you have to take Tiger or Rover somewhere important, like the vet, when it is very hot outside you must keep them cool. I like to use one or two of those reusable cold packs inside the carrier under the towel or blanket. Cover them with a zip lock baggie. If you do not have any of these, use 20 oz. plastic coke bottles. Fill them 3/4 with water and put them in the freezer over night. For larger animals use the liter or 2 liter size. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER leave your pet or your child inside a vehicle in the summer. Not for one minute, not for one second. Don’t do it.

 My Mama Told Me, “You Better Shop Around”

It sure seems a good idea to pay attention to the prices for various cat care items. Typically Walmart and Costco seem to have the most reasonable prices on pet care items. Interestingly, the Costco labelled cat food, called Kirkland Signature, is very similar to Science Diet. I have heard that Diamond makes it for them. My cats adore it and do very well on it. It is priced much lower than SciDi.

 Giving Medicine

I’m sure we’ve all seen the email forward about the couple that tried to give medicine to their cat and wound up scratched, bitten and frustrated but when they gave it to their dog they just “wrapped it in bacon”. Cats don’t like to take medicine. I don’t like to take medicine. Remember the song from (I think) Mary Poppins “Just A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down”? Start training early. Teach your cat or kitten that sometimes a nice treat comes on a spoon. Once in a while say, “Fluffy, want a treat?” and let Fluffy lick about a half teaspoon of “treat” right off the spoon. I use lamb baby food, cats adore it. You can use canned cat food or even a little plain yogurt. Help your cat become accustomed to getting a treat on a spoon. When the situation arises that you need to give Fluffy a pill, you can just hide the pill in the middle of the treat on the spoon, and say, “Fluffy, want a treat?” and down it will go without Fluffy so much as noticing. (If the pill is large, crush it and mix it into the treat. If it is a capsule, empty the contents into the treat and mix.) Liquid medicine? Start training now. Buy a plastic eye dropper at the drugstore. Every once in a while say, “Oreo, want a treat?” and give Oreo something that tastes good with the eye dropper. Chicken broth is good. Juice from canned cat food is good. If it’s something “people food”, just don’t give it to Oreo while you are eating. (Never feed your cat people food while you are eating.). Then, some day when Oreo has to have liquid medicine from a dropper, the dropper will be familiar. We probably are NOT going to mix the medicine with the treat this time, but kitty will not be resistant to the dropper.

 Travel Carriers/ Crates

How many cats just HATE getting into their carriers? The reason for this is that most cats are only put into a carrier when their owner takes them to the vet or some place else that they would rather not go. Cats don’t really like “go” anywhere, they are territorial and like to stay home. Dogs are pack animals and like to go where the pack (i.e. YOU) goes. If you want an animal to take with you for company, get a dog. Start carrier training early. Have at least one small crate of the $12 plastic variety from PetSmart or PetCo. These come apart for cleaning. Take the door off and put it somewhere handy so you can put it back on when you need to really take Midnight somewhere. Place the carrier somewhere comfy and put a few soft old towels or a piece of blanket inside. Let Midnight use it for a bed. Cats love boxes and crates to sleep in. I have several around the house and my cats take turns using them. When you have to take Midnight somewhere, put the door back on, leave the bedding inside and you will be happy to find that Midnight regards the the crate as “my bed” and not “the bad box”. It is unlikely that he will give you any trouble “loading up” at all.


Have you ever brought a toy home and found that your cat likes the package or the bag it came in better than the toy itself?
I have. Any more, when I bring something home that has “interesting” packaging, I give the wrapper to the cats. If I see that they don’t play with it, THEN I throw it out. The funniest thing they have chosen to play with recently is the green pot scrubber. They will get up on the sink to snitch it. As far as “bought” toys are concerned, my cats seem to adore the ball-in-the-track toy and what I have come to call the “gourmet mice”, little fur mice with a leather thong tail. They come 6 or 12 to a pack and are about the same size as real mice. My cats seem to think that they ARE real. Some of the household items they enjoy are: the cardboard core from toilet paper, paper towels and especially gift wrap; corks; plastic bottle caps; little plastic scoops that come in different food products; paper bags, cardboard boxes both huge and small; carpet scraps. If you ask nicely in the electrical department of Home Depot they will give you an empty wire spool. I varnished the ends of mine and put carpet on the center post. They use it for a scratching post and they also sit on the end and watch Animal Planet on TV. Cats love Animal Planet