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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Give Cats some Plants of their own

In the spring and summer, it's easy to enjoy greenery. It's all around us, and if we don't have any in our homes, we're outside enough to see all we want. But when the days shorten, we start to crave our indoor gardens.
Unfortunately, our cats do, too.
But cats and houseplants don't have to be an either-or proposition. To have both, all you need to do is give your cats some plants of their own and make the other houseplants less attractive. And don't sweat the occasional chewed leaves or knocked-over pot.
Your cat needs some plants for nibbling, some for sniffing and some for play. For chewing, always keep a pot of tender grass seedlings -- rye, alfalfa and wheat -- growing in a sunny spot. Parsley and thyme are herbs that many cats enjoy smelling and chewing, and both can be grown indoors. Try some different varieties, especially with the parsley.
Catnip is a natural for any cat garden, but the herb is so appealing to some cats that they just won't leave it alone. Keep seedlings out of reach of your pet, or the plant may never get a chance to reach maturity. Once you've got a mature plant, snip off pieces to give your cat, to stuff into toys or to rub on cat trees. Catnip can't hurt your pet, so let him get as blissed out as he wants. Don't be surprised, however, if catnip has no effect at all: The ability to enjoy the herb is genetic, and some cats do not possess the "catnip gene."
Valerian is another plant that some cats find blissful, so be sure to plant some of this herb, too. When your cat has his own plants, you can work on keeping him away from yours. Plants on the ground or on low tables are the easiest targets for chewing, digging up or knocking asunder, so make your houseplants less accessible to a bored and wandering cat. Put plants up high, or better yet, hang them.
For the plants you can't move out of harm's way, make them less appealing by coating leaves with something your cat finds disagreeable. Cat-discouragers include Bitter Apple, a nasty-tasting substance available at any pet-supply store, or Tabasco sauce from the grocery store. Whenever you find what your cat doesn't like, keep reapplying it to enforce the point.
Once your cat learns that the leaves aren't so tasty, you can teach him that dirt isn't for digging and pots aren't for tipping. Pot your plants in heavy, wide-bottomed containers and cover the soil of the problem plants with rough decorative rock. Foil and waxed paper are less attractive deterrents, and I don't like to recommend them as much as decorative rock because you're going to get tired of looking at that foil.
You can also deter your cat from approaching pots by using carpet runners around the plants, with the pointy-side up.
Whatever tool or combination of tools you choose, remember that the most important ones are patience and compromise. Give your cat the greens he wants and make the rest less attractive to him. A lush indoor garden is within the reach of any cat lover willing to compromise for the happiness of the cat.
A final note: Not all plants are safe around cats and other pets. Lilies, in particular, are toxic -- and a common source of pet poisoning. Check the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center's list of toxic and safe houseplants before buying any indoor greenery. - By Gina Spadafori
Constant cleanup a parrot problem
Q: Exactly how much effort do I need to put into caring for a parrot? I have always wanted one, but I know they're very messy. Help me decide if I'm "parrot parent" material. -- via email
A: Yes, parrots are messy. Very, very messy. They seem to take particular pride in covering every surface, including walls and ceilings, with not only poop, but also food. There were times with my late parrot Eddie that I considered putting a shower enclosure in the corner of the room where his cage was to make it easier to wipe down the constant mess.
Keeping mess to a minimum (and providing a safe, healthy home for your bird) requires a proactive approach. Every morning and evening you should replace soiled cage liners. Putting newspapers both above and below the grid at the bottom of the cage makes it easier to "clean as you go." You can put a few layers at the base of the cage and remove layer by layer throughout the day whenever droppings appear.
You should also change food bowls and water bowls (or bottles) twice a day. Some birds get feathers or even droppings in their bowls, and you need to constantly check for bowls that need cleaning. If you use a water bottle with your bird, check every morning to ensure that it's not clogged by pressing the ball with your finger. (Birds can become seriously dehydrated very quickly.)
Birds usually prefer to eat after dawn and near dusk, so these are great times to provide fresh fruits and vegetables -- and remove the leftovers before you go to work or bed. Leftover food pellets should be discarded every morning and replaced with fresh ones.
Finish off your twice-daily routine by using your cleaning solution and paper towels, and use a handheld vacuum to clean up any other messes in the vicinity. And remember: Your dishwasher is a great tool for cleaning everything from perches to dishes to toys.
While daily attention will keep things pretty clean, you'll need to do a big scrub on a regular basis -- walls, floors, cage and all its contents. Scrub well with soap and water, soak in a mild bleach solution, rinse and air-dry before re-introducing your bird. -- Gina Spadafori
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The Buzz
Impact of pet loss keeps some pet-free

  • The lasting effects of pet loss may be underestimated, with a fifth of respondents in a recent poll saying they didn't currently have a pet because the loss of their last one was too painful. The strong response came as a surprise to the American Humane Association, which polled 1,500 non-pet owners and past pet owners last February, asking why they did not currently own a dog or cat. Other respondents gave answers that were more anticipated, citing the time and expense of keeping a pet. 

  • Complaints to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the number of pets sickened or killed by chicken jerky treats have topped 1,300, and the agency recently expanded its investigation after receiving additional reports of illness caused by Chinese treats made of yams or sweet potatoes. To date, there have been no recalls, and no indication of what the problem could be. 

  • A multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to pet hedgehogs sickened more than a dozen people, half under the age of 10, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. No fatalities were reported. The outbreak is a good reminder that while small pets are popular for children, parents need to be sure that safe handling practices are followed, especially hand-washing after playing with pets and keeping the animals out of food-preparation areas. The CDC offers guidelines on children's pets. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 10/1/2012 9:24:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 10/01/2012


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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