Cinder’s Advice: The Right Cat Toy

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: My cat doesn’t play with toys. Is something wrong?

“Cinder, have you lost your mouse again?” Allison asked.

I was sitting beside the front closet door, waiting for my pet parents to fetch my mouse for me. I’ve more than a dozen toys to choose from, but will only play with my leopard-spotted gray mouse. It’s my favorite mouse of all time.

When Allison found it, she didn’t just hand it back to me. She walked over to a round wooden puzzle toy and dropped my mouse into it.

I hid behind our recliner. When Allison left the living room, I ran and pounced on the puzzle. Then I started digging into puzzle’s holes. I pushed plastic balls and other mice to the side until I found my mouse. I hooked it with my claws and pulled it out. Victory!

One of my sisters peered into the room. I gripped the mouse in my jaws and, with my head low, I growled at her and scared her away. This is my mouse!

Back and forth, I batted my mouse. It slid under a woven basket in the living room and I pulled it out by its nose. Back and forth, I batted my mouse again. It slipped underneath the recliner and I dragged it back out by its tail.

When Allison returned to the living room, she laughed at me rolling around on the floor with my mouse I was rolling around on the floor with my mouse. I stopped in mid-roll to look at Allison, and she laughed at me. Harumph. I went back to playing. I tossed the mouse in the air. I shoved it under a pillow. And then I lost it again under the front closet door. “It’s nice to see you enjoying toys again,” Allison said.

You might think your cat doesn’t like to play, but you just might need to find the right toy.

  • Some of us like plush toys that we can sink our teeth into, instead of hard plastic toys; others prefer balls that roll and can be chased.
  • Some of us like small toys because remind us of smaller prey like mice; others prefer larger toys that remind us of larger prey or other cats
  • Some of us like toys that sound or feel like real animals; there are some that making a rustling sound like a squirrel, whereas others might be made with feathers or fur.
  • Finally, while some of us don’t care what type of toy you offer as long as it’s in motion, others might be pickier because of being less mobile due to older age.

Cat toys can be divided into two broad categories: self-play and interactive.

  • Self-play toys are good if you need to leave us alone. The cheapest ones are plastic rings from milk jugs and empty toilet paper rolls. Other low-cost toys are furry mice and crinkle balls. These can be made more challenging by placing them in objects such as empty tissue boxes or by hiding them around the house.
  • Interactive toys are great for strengthening the bond between you and your cats, because they require your involvement. When using a dangler or wand with your cat, be sure to try different kinds of actions to keep your cat from getting bored. Hide the lure, make it quiver, slide it across the floor, and whip it through the air. Be creative. Your cat will appreciate the chance to practice its hunting skills. And you may find that your cat prefers some actions to others.

The year that my parents adopted me, they bought me all kinds of toys. A wand toy shaped like a snake quickly became my favorite. My parents bought three more like it and put them in storage as backups, because danglers can break.

The problem with that toy is that I can only play with it when my parents have time to play with me. They don’t leave it out because if I play with it on my own the string could become wrapped around my neck and strangle me.

I love my puzzle toy, because I don’t need my pet parents around when I’m in the mood to play. I just dig through the puzzle toy or throw around my polka-dotted play mouse.

My mouse is now so worn that the eyes are gone, the nose is faded, and the fabric is worn. But it won’t last forever. I hope my parents can get me some more.


Cinder’s Advice: Growling and Food-Guarding

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: Why do cats growl and how does one stop them from guarding their food?

“Grrr!” I growled as Allison placed my breakfast in front of me.

Allison pulled back. “Cinder, no!” she scolded.

She turned to Andy who had just entered the kitchen. “Cinder growled at me!”

He approached me. Before I could stop myself, I growled again. “Grrr!”

Allison shook her head. “I thought only dogs growled.”

Ha! I thought. If a dog can growl, so can a cat! We can get just as annoyed as dogs. And scared. Even angry.

Andy shrugged his shoulders. “What are we going to do about it? How can we teach her not to growl?”

Puzzled, I glanced up at them. Growling had been the only way I could tell all those other cats at the shelter to stay away from my food. Why would I stop growling?

A common reason cats growl is to protect their food. But why do some cats feel the need to guard their food? Like me, some do so because they were in a situation where it was necessary. Some reasons cats guard their food are:

  • As kittens, they were separated from their mothers too young and never properly weaned.
  • They were forced to live outdoors and to scrounge or even fight for food.
  • They receive too little food or are fed too often during the day and their protective instinct gets aroused.
  • As part of a multi-cat household, it’s just the presence of other cats that triggers the instinct, even if none of the other cats are actively trying to steal their food.

After I’d cleaned off my plate, Allison leaned in and gently stroked my head. “Sweet Cinder. Your food is safe here. No one’s going to take it,” she whispered.

Wow! I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard! Allison understood what I felt. Instead of rushing off to play, I basked in her attention.

For a long time, nothing changed. Then one day at mealtime Allison didn’t immediately place my food in front of me. Instead she ordered me: “Sit!”

My heart began to race. I started to frantically turn in circles. Allison had been teaching me to “Sit,” but telling me to sit now didn’t make any sense. Was she trying to taunt me by withholding food? I could see my dish in her hand. Why wouldn’t she give it to me? When Allison wouldn’t budge I reluctantly sat, but the instant she put down my food, I growled and hunched over my dish. No one was going to keep me from my food!

“Cinder, you have terrible manners!” Allison scolded and took back my food. I began to whine and pant.

Allison’s face looked sad and she tried to soothe me. When I finally sat, she returned my dish. I instantly growled. I couldn’t help it.

Every day was like this. I started to hate mealtimes. Maybe Allison figured this out, because after a while she tried other ways to teach me this thing called “manners”. One day after preparing my food, she gave me a treat. I gobbled it up. “Good girl for not growling,” Allison murmured and then gave me another treat. I soon figured out that my Allison was giving me treats whenever I didn’t growl at her, but I still couldn’t quell my panic.

There are many ways to teach dogs and cats not to guard food. My pet mom has tried them all!

  • Don’t feed at the table. This only trains us to always expect food.
  • Restrict our exposure to food of any kind except at meals, which means you pet parents can’t eat in front of us.
  • Give meals at a set time, so we take comfort in knowing when the next meal will come.
  • Give attention, not food. When food is always used to meet our demands, we’ll always want food.
  • Play with us before meals. That way, we’ll be in a positive mood before our meals.
  • Feed us more than once a day. We like our independence and take comfort in having some control over when we eat.
  • Add more food to each meal so that we have the chance to feel full. Don’t let us get overweight, but just give us more food so that we feel more secure.
  • Make us work for our food by using puzzle feeders. These reward us when we figure out the puzzle, along with keeping us slim.
  • In multi-pet households, feed everyone in different areas or rooms. Separating where we eat eliminates competition and our need to bully.

One day Allison had a talk with me. She told me again that I didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing my food, and then told me that she was going to stop trying to change me. Instead she said that she and Andy were going to give me privacy at mealtimes. “We love you the way you are, with all your quirks, and we want you to be happy.” I touched her with my paw, thanking her. Maybe one day I’ll stop being stressed about food, but for now it feels good to be accepted as I am.

Cinder’s Advice: Helping A Cat Recover After Surgery

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: How can one help their cat recover from surgery?

Recap of my previous two columns: A few days after I got adopted, I stopped feeling so good. The vet told my owners that I might have an allergy to dental plaque. Because plaque is full of bacteria, and because my immune system was overreacting to those bacteria, the vet prescribed yucky-tasting antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Unfortunately, the medication didn’t work, and the next step was surgery by a dental specialist.

On with the story: Waking up from surgery was not a pleasant experience. I was still in pain. Worse, I discovered that all my teeth except the two lower canines had been removed. The specialist told my owners that the rest of my teeth had been too damaged to save. Just as bad, my head was now trapped in a hard-plastic cone-shaped prison! The specialist advised my owners that I needed the cone to keep me from pawing at the stitches in my gums. I disagreed with him; if they would just remove the cone I knew that I’d be the perfect patient.

When my owners got me home, they brought me to a closed room and tucked me into my bed but didn’t remove the cone. I made clear how upset I felt by yowling at them. They left the room and closed the door, which made my spirits sink further. What if my owners didn’t like me without teeth? What if they didn’t want to take care of me anymore?

I tried to walk to the door, so I could scratch at it and get them to return. But my cone made it impossible to see or move far, and I kept stumbling over my paws. Finally, I gave up and whimpered. That’s when Allison came back. She picked me up and held me in her lap. I wanted to just lay there and fall asleep, but I hurt too much to sleep. The only thing that felt good was her staying with me, stroking me, and loving me.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep despite the pain, because when I opened my eyes again the sun had gone down. Andy was in the room now too. He put some food and water in front of me. I tried to reach the bowls, but the carpet kept catching on the cone, and so I yowled again. This time they listened to me. They removed the cone. Oh, the relief! Instantly I opened my mouth to eat. Oh, the pain! I pawed at my mouth. I couldn’t help myself.

My owners put the cone back. I felt ashamed to have let them down, and crawled off my pet mom’s lap. But there was nowhere to hide. Every time I took a step, I stumbled over my paws. I trembled. My pet mom reached for me, but I retreated. I wanted to be left alone. She lay next to me, but my pet dad left. I waited and waited for her to leave too. When I woke up the next time, the sun was up again, and my pet dad had a package in his hand. He had brought a softer recovery collar to make me feel more comfortable.

Some cats are masters at hiding pain; that night I was not. Here’s a checklist for helping cats recover from surgery.


  • Confine them to a small area on the floor where they will be safe.
  • Limit their activity so that they can more quickly recuperate.
  • Provide them with undisturbed time for a few days so they can recover in peace.
  • Give them soft blankets to help them feel comfortable and reassured.
  • Ensure they have easy access to a litter box, food, and water.
  • Think about switching from traditional litter to shredded paper to avoid an infection.
  • Check for signs that something is wrong: smell around the stitches and look for discoloring that doesn’t disappear in twenty-four hours, behavior changes, and ongoing pain


  • Allow them outside until they have fully recovered.
  • Let them lick or otherwise touch the stitches.
  • Give too much water or water. Overdoing it may cause nausea.

My recovery took almost two weeks but, thanks to my dad buying me a better recovery collar, I could more easily walk about and eat during those two weeks. I’ll have a new adventure to share in my next advice column!

Have cat questions of your own? Submit to: allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom

Cinder’s Advice: Giving Medication to a Cat

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: How does one get their cat to take medication?

Recap of part one: A few days after I got adopted, I stopped feeling so good. Every time I bit into a treat, my mouth filled with pain. What the vet discovered shocked my owners and me. I’ll just say that I was very fortunate to have been adopted by people who loved me enough to take such diligent care of me, even though I had only been with them a few days.

Now part two: The vet told my owners that I had something called stomatitis. The vet thought I might have an allergy to plaque. Without treatment, I’d continue to have plaque and eventually the plaque would lead to much worse stuff like failure of my kidneys. Because plaque is full of bacteria, and because my immune system was overreacting to those bacteria, the vet prescribed yucky tasting antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Everyone hoped this would reduce the inflammation in my mouth.

A week later, my owners took me to the vet again. The news wasn’t any better. The vet reported that my gums still looked bad. But she didn’t give up. She prescribed steroids, which my owners hid in my food. They thought I didn’t know, but we cats have a very strong sense of smell. I decided to stick to my resolution to let them do whatever it took to get my health back and ate the food with the pill.

Not all cats are as cooperative. If cats turn up their nose at pills (whether whole or crushed) in their food, try some of these suggestions:

  • Buy a package of yummy Pill Pockets and encase the pill in the pill pocket. Your cat will taste the pill pocket but not the pill.
  • Ask for your vet if the pill is available in paste form. The paste will cost more than a pill but can be rubbed on our ears to avoid the risk that we’ll go on a life-threatening hunger strike.
  • Pop the pill into our mouth. You’ll need to restrain us, which won’t be easy. Here are some tips Hold the top of our head by placing your thumb on one side of our upper jaw and our fingers on the other side. Tilt our head back gently until our nose points toward the ceiling, which should cause our jaw to open just enough for you to pop in the pill.
  • Place your hand under our chin with your thumb against one cheek and your fingers against the other cheek, and push in gently until we open their mouth.
  • For those cats who prefer to be held on their back, cradle them like a baby, but with their head and neck in an upright position. Then just use your hand to open their mouth and pop in the pill.
  • Use a pill-popper. It looks a like a syringe, but instead of a needle there are plastic “jaws” that hold a pill, which will “pop” into our mouths when you depress the plunger. One you have us restrained, take the pill popper with the pill already placed in it, and use it to open our mouth by pushing it into the side of our mouth. Next, push the pill popper to the back of our mouth, depress the plunger. There’s less chance of being bitten since it’s the pill popper that will go into your cat’s mouth, not your fingers.

I wish I could tell you that the medication worked and that the vet visits were over. Unfortunately, the next step was a trip to a specialist More about that in my next column!

Cinder’s Advice: Taking a Cat to A Vet, Part One

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: When should one take their cat to the vet?

A few days after I got adopted, I stopped feeling so good. My owners had been spending a lot of time playing with me, which I thought was fun, and they had also been trying to get me to let them touch me. They were patting my head, rubbing my tummy, tapping my toes; and stroking my mouth. Each time I didn’t protest, they’d praise me: “Good girl!”

They’d also reward me with a yummy-smelling treat, which is when I stopped feeling so good, and this confused me. I felt as if I were being quiet and still. My owners kept smiling and sticking out treats for me take. But every time I bit into one of their treats, my mouth filled with pain.

At first, I tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. Hanging out with my owners made me happy. But then the pain got so bad, I didn’t know what to do. Was my owner mad at me and so she was punishing me? Or was something wrong with me and so I had to let her know? Except what if my new owners decided to return me to the shelter?

My owner offered me another treat. I stared at the treat. It smelled good. I glanced up at my owner. She looked happy. I sighed. Maybe this time would be different…. I bit into the treat. Ow! This time I couldn’t hold it in, and I had to yelp out loud.

Suddenly my owner was picking me up and checking me out. “What’s wrong?” she kept asking me. I jumped out of her arms and ran away to hide. I hadn’t meant to say anything out loud. But I also couldn’t keep pretending everything was okay. I was SO confused!

Yes, I’m letting you in on a secret…. Cats aren’t as cocky and stoic as we’d like you to think. We do care if you like us and we do feel pain even if we’re expert actors. Below are ten reasons you should call your vet:

  • Hiding or clinging to you more than normal
  • No longer playing or spending time with you
  • No longer climbing and jumping onto surfaces
  • Sitting hunched up in a corner
  • Purring, meowing, panting or growling excessively
  • Avoiding bright areas
  • Swatting, hissing, scratching, or biting for no reason
  • Neglecting to groom ourselves or overgrooming ourselves in one area
  • Doing our business outside the litter box
  • Turning up nose at our favorite foods

After I yowled out loud, my owner took me to the vet. What the vet discovered shocked my owners. It shocked me too!

But you’ll have to wait for my next column to find out what was wrong with me. For now, I’ll just say that I was very fortunate to have been adopted by people who loved me enough to take such diligent care of me, even though I had only been with them a few days.

Cinder’s Advice: Bonding with a New Cat

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: How can one bond with a new cat?

Zoom! Zoom! That’s me racing from one part of the library to another. The library is the room where my pet parents restricted me during my first week with them. My owner was laughing as she chased me. When I ducked under a computer desk, she dropped to her knees and crawled after me. Next, I hid under a printer stand. Ha! She was too big to follow me. My owner tilted her head one way and then the other, calling my name and acting as if she didn’t know where I was. I peeked out at her, in case she really didn’t know where I was. Then I dashed past her again, ready for another game of chase.

Purr! Purr! On one of her visits to see me, my owner brought me a white furry mouse. She put it in front of me. Was it real? I gave it a sniff. Ah, it’s just a toy. I batted it with my paws. Then I rolled over on my back. The toy still in my paws, I pulled it to my face and then wrestled with it. The toy fell. I bounded to my feet and batted it again. My owner threw the mouse across the room and I raced after it. I flicked it away and then chased it down, over and over, until I grew tired. My owner embraced me in a hug, and I let her, briefly. Then I squirmed away. I needed space. Then I rubbed my nose to hers to thank her. What a wonderful world I have!

You might think that cats don’t bond with their owners, but we really do, and here are ways you can encourage your cat to bond with you:

  • Share your scent: Smells define a cat’s life! It shouldn’t surprise you that we want to know your unique scent.
  • Get down on our level: The lower you are, the more comfortable cats will feel with you. If you sit quietly and allow us to approach you when we choose, we’ll appreciate this action.
  • Spend time with us: One of my sisters likes to go for stroller rides with our owners. I don’t. My other sister likes to lay on their laps. I don’t. But I do like to wrestle my owners. We’re all different in the type of attention we want, but we also all want it.
  • Play with us: Each time my owners spend time with me in the library, they bring food or they come to play. The food lets me know they care for me; the toys let me know life with them will be fun.
  • Pet us: Even if I don’t like being hugged, I do like being stroked. Also, petting is the best way to get cats used to grooming, which is one of our most social behaviors.
  • Let us hear you: There are many ways to communicate with us. Say hello. Meow when we do. Sing to us. Just talk—about anything and everything. We like to hear your voice!
  • Watch us: Even though my sisters and I have our unique mannerisms, we also have a lot in common. Take time to watch us and soon everyone will think you’re a cat whisperer. 😉
  • Let us sleep with you: Cats enjoy love the warmth of our owners. We also love beds—whether our own, the dog’s, or yours!

In my next column, I’ll tell you about my teeth adventure. Please keep watch for it!

Have cat questions of your own? Submit to: allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom