A Cat Behaviourist’s Guide to Buying Cat Products

Illustration showing the front of a shop selling cat items, with more cat products in the foreground

If you’re anything like me you get very excited about buying something new for the cat in your life, only to feel hugely let down when he turns his nose up at it in favour of the box it came in.

Cats are notoriously fickle and with each having very distinct preferences when it comes to their accessories, it can make life difficult and very expensive for us! This guide will help you choose and position new cat products in a way that will enrich your cat’s environment and as a result, increase the chances of him actually using them. Although of course, this can never be guaranteed!

Cat Scratching Posts

Tortoiseshell cat scratching on a cat scratching post

Cat scratching posts can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are large tall ones, little ones for kittens, ones with multiple platforms as well as horizontal scratchers made from compacted cardboard or sisal which may be favoured by elderly cats or those that can’t climb. They also go by different names – cat tree, cat activity centre, cat climbing frame, cat tower… you get the picture!

They are a very important piece of cat furniture as they allow our cats to perform a number of important functions. Cats will not only use the sisal posts for the removal of claw husks, but also as a means of secreting their scent via the glands on their paw pads. The more of their scent they can deposit around their environment the safer they feel.

The tall, modular cat scratching activity trees allow them to climb up high which gives them that all-important sense of security, especially if you place them in front of your patio doors which will also afford them an exciting view of your garden! Some also have an enclosed or part-enclosed ‘cave’ for cats that prefer to hide away. And speaking of getting up high shelves are great and nowadays you can find shelves specifically made with cats in mind such as those at the MadKatz shop. These allow cats to move around a room without having to meet any other feline housemates that they might not get along with.

Tip: When buying a scratching post, choose one that allows your cat to scratch at full stretch. Also make sure it’s nice and stable as cats can be put off by wobbly posts!

Cat Litter Trays

Siamese Cat Sitting in Litter Tray

From hooded trays to corner trays to self-cleaning trays – the choice of cat litter tray available today is enormous and can be confusing! However, it’s important to get this right because the key to resolving many house-soiling behaviours lie with the toilet facilities. The types of litter tray (hooded or open); the size; quantity, locations and what litter is used all need to be just right to entice your cat to use them.

For homes with more than one cat it’s important to have multiple litter trays where possible. This is to stop any attempts on the part of a more confident cat from blocking the tray so that his less confident feline housemate is unable to access it.

Hooded trays are usually fine for homes where there is just one cat, but in multi-cat homes the hood can provide the perfect perch for a cat to ambush the unsuspecting feline inside. In this case I would recommend a combination of hooded and open trays to cater for all tastes. The trays should be located well apart from each other, ideally one upstairs and one downstairs, if this is possible and in nice private locations.

Avoid using any product that could make the tray unpleasant for your cat such as litter liners which cats can catch their claws in, and scented deodorisers.

Did You Know?

When it comes to litter trays big is beautiful! In fact a litter tray should ideally be 1.5 times the length of your cat from the tip of his nose to the base of his tail which will allow him to turn around and to rake to his heart’s content. These will usually be described as ‘jumbo cat litter trays’ on sites like Amazon and other shops that sell pet supplies.

Cat Litter

Cat litter falling through a cat litter scoop into a cat litter tray

There are many types available but which is the best? The ancestors of our domestic cat, the African Wild Cat instinctively gravitated towards a sand-like material for for their toileting and today’s pet cats are no different, as anyone with a sandpit in their garden will tell you! So although our cats may well use other litters, if it was up to them, they would choose a fine sand-like litter which they can easily ‘rake’ and which are nice and soft on their sensitive paw pads.

I always recommend clumping litters because the clumps make removal of all urine particles much easier. With non-clumping litters the urine spreads over the surface making it impossible to remove all the urine which usually means the tray and surrounding area remains smelly until the next time it’s cleaned out.

For cats that produce normal amounts of urine several times daily, you need only fill the tray with litter to a depth of 3-4cm. If your cat urinates less frequently and in larger volumes you may need to add a further 1-2cms.

Did You Know?

The fragrances such as lavender and baby talc that are added to some cat litters, are only done so for our human noses, not for our cats – they’d prefer it without!

Cat Litter Scoops and Mats

Black cat litter mat and blue cat litter scoop

Servicing your cat’s litter tray regularly is important for two reasons, cat’s don’t like toileting in a used tray, and we don’t like the lingering smells that a tray filled with cat urine and faeces produces. In the ‘Cat Litter’ section we discussed the use of fine, sand-like litters. If you use these you will need a cat litter scoop with small holes that will collect up even the tiniest of urine clumps! In fact the smaller the ‘holes’ the better!

You might also find that some litters might more easily be strewn outside the tray when the more vigorous diggers of our feline households use them, so you could try using a cat litter mat especially designed to prevent the litter from ‘tracking’.

Cat Puzzle Feeders

White Siamese cat getting food from an interactive puzzle feeder

Where’s the fun in having your cat food sitting in a cat food bowl for you when you could forage for your food?! Giving cats their food in an interactive cat feeder (also called a cat puzzle feeder) is gaining in popularity. Not only do they provide an extra bit of stimulation, particularly for indoor cats, but they also reduce the speed at which cats can eat as well as playing a role in a dietary management programme for overweight cats. When I first entered the world of cat behaviour it was a case of coming up with a home-made creation as there were very few on the market. However, things have changed and there’s a plethora of interactive feeders for cats now available. Some are suitable for treats only, but others can be used for both dry food, treats and even wet cat food.

To get your cats used to puzzle feeding start by placing a high value treat food into yoghurt pots glued to cardboard or into a cardboard toilet roll pyramid, so they get used to using their paws to obtain food. The puzzle feeders should initially be located next to their dry food bowls in their separate areas. When they are used to the concept, place a small amount of their dry food combined with a few treats into the feeders with the remainder of the dry food in their usual bowls. Gradually reduce the amount of food in the bowls whilst correspondingly increasing the amount in the feeders so eventually their entire daily allowance of dry food is given in the feeder and the bowl removed.

When they become experienced it would be a good idea to have a number of different feeders, basic and advanced and rotate them to stop boredom setting in!

Tip: Visit Food Puzzles for Cats to see the types of puzzle feeders that are available as well as ideas for making your own interactive cat feeder at home. And if you would like to see how cats use puzzle feeders take a look at the videos below or you can visit my puzzle feeding video blog.

Cat Bowls, Slow Feeders and Automatic Feeders

Silver tabby cat beside food bowl licking his lips

When it comes to the type of bowl we choose to use to offer cat food in we might go for something that’s stylish or something that’s more practical. However, there are other criteria that we might want to consider.

Firstly, cat food bowls made from plastic have a smell that can put some cats off, so where possible, a ceramic cat food bowl would be preferable. Using an automatic cat feeder might be a good option for the odd mealtime when you’re going to be out, and microchip feeders are now available for multi-cat households where one cat has a penchant for stealing the food of another of where different cats have different diets.

If your cat is elderly, it might be uncomfortable for him to lower his head to the floor, in which case you can either place his existing bowl on something to elevate it, or buy a raised cat food bowl which can be height adjusted.

Tip: Placing your cat’s food bowl away from a wall will give them the opportunity to conduct a 360 degree surveillance whilst eating.​

Cat Water Bowls and Fountains

Kitten drinking water from a glass

Do you put a glass of water on the table only to turn around and find your cat drinking from it, despite having his own water bowl? Or you might have a cat that prefers drinking from a dripping tap. Encouraging cats to drink water is very important especially for those cats who are fed an exclusively dry diet, and taking their preferences into account in terms of cat water bowls can help.

Some cats love running water, so rather than allowing your tap to drip why not treat them to a water fountain? As with cat food bowls, ceramic drinking bowls for cats are preferable to plastic, should be as wide as a dog bowl and filled to the rim . This is because cats can suffer from whisker stress if their whiskers touch the sides of the bowl or the water. And let’s not forget elderly cats who might be more comfortable drinking from an elevated bowl.

Tip: Cats don’t associate drinking with food in the same way as we humans do and are more likely to drink from their water bowl if it’s placed well away from their food.

Cat Grass

Tabby cat in a blue room eating cat grass

The cat is an obligate carnivore and having meat in their diet is essential. So why is it that we see cats eating grass? It is thought that some cats do this as a means of helping them pass fur through their digestive tracts more easily so that they can regurgitate it in the form of hairballs. nnBut what happens for cats that don’t have access to grass outside? You can now grow your own indoor cat grass that comes as pre-packaged seeds in a container.

Offering this type of immature grass to a cat, particularly indoor cats, not only helps with hairballs, but can give them an extra bit of environmental enrichment and may also distract them from eating other, potentially hazardous and toxic indoor houseplants such as lilies, amaryllis and chrysanthemums. You can find a list of house plants that are potentially toxic to cats at: www.icatcare.org.

Did You Know?
Cats regurgitate when they eat grass because they lack the necessary enzymes to break down vegetable matter. This is why they can never be vegetarians!

Cat Toys

Two siamese cats playing with catnip toys

Play is a very important and instinctive activity for our cats. It provides stimulation, hones their hunting skills, helps with weight management and is a wonderful stress buster. For this reason I would suggest making time in your schedule to play with your cat at least twice a day. For these interactive sessions fishing rod toys that your cat can chase and jump up at are ideal as they replicate natural feline hunting behaviour whilst keeping human hands away from the action. But when it comes to toys that your cat can play with on his or her own what should you chose?

Well, there’s no easy answer as each cat usually has his or her own preference – for some it’s the texture that’s important such as a fur-covered mouse or some real feathers (which can be bought in bags online) whilst others respond to different sizes of toy, irrespective of their own size. I’ve seen a tiny kitten having the time of his life with a huge cat kicker toy!

Another category of toy are those containing scent such as honeysuckle toys, catnip toys, or cats toys made from valerian and silvervine. You can read about Tatarian honeysuckle for cats here.

All this choice means that buying your cat a brand new toy (which let’s face it, is usually more exciting for you than for your cat!) can be a lottery. Even when you’ve found some toys that your cat likes playing with, he might discard them after only one or two play sessions. If you want to avoid this you can keep the toys novel by hiding them away in a sealed plastic bag and rotating them daily. And just because a cat disregards a toy, doesn’t mean he won’t like it in the future, so it’s worth holding on to!

Tip: When it comes to play don’t forget to include elderly cats. Gentle and regular play over short periods can help with any tendencies for them to gain weight, increase cognitive function and give them a better quality of life.

Cat Beds

Cat sleeping in a box with a pink blanket

Cat hammocks, igloos, heated pet beds, these are just some of the types of beds that are especially designed for your cat’s comfort, though usually an old towel or piece of clothing that smells of you will serve them just as well!

As with toys, there’s no rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a bed for your cat and they’ll tend to let you know what they like. However, when it comes to beds there are two things that are important to cats and these are heat and location.

Generally cats like their beds to be in discreet places and elevated to give them a sense of security, although you might find that it doesn’t matter where in your house the bed is located if it’s close to a heat source! This is why heated pet pads, hammocks and electric or heated cat beds can be a great tool to entice your cat to sleep where you’d like him to! A heated cat bed is a great choice for elderly cats who tend to have less fat on them and therefore feel the cold more. The heat will also help ease the pain from any aching or stiff joints.

Did You Know?
Pet cats spend an average of 16 hours a day sleeping!

Cat Grooming Brushes and Combs

Tabby cat sitting on wooden table behind a cat grooming tool and bundle of cat fur

We all know that grooming is an essential maintenance activity for cats but how many of you are aware that cats also use it as a ‘displacement activity’ and if stressed can compulsively groom as a coping strategy. This is because it is a predictable behaviour that they can control.

So if you notice a change in your cat’s grooming habits, this could be a sign that from an emotional perspective all is not well. If your cat is grooming to the point where he is pulling out his own fur, then taking him to the vet in the first instance is a must as most cases of over grooming have a physical source. If the vet believes that there is a a behavioural component to the behaviour then they may recommend intervention from a cat behaviourist. You’ll find more information on cats that over groom and how you can help them in my blog post How to Help Cats that Over Groom and Pull Their Fur Out.

When it comes to maintenance grooming most cats are fastidious, but the majority still need a regular groom from us especially during the moulting season. Those who own shorthair cats might wonder what all the fuss is about, but those of you with longhair lovelies might feel like you spend your lives getting stubborn knots out of their furry locks!!

When you buy a cat grooming tool it’s best to choose wisely and get a cat brush or comb that’s appropriate for your cat’s size and length of fur. Don’t forget, grooming elderly cats is also important because quite often they’re unable to reach the parts that younger cats can. Gentle grooming also provides them with some well deserved ‘cat-owner’ quality time.

Did You Know?
Regular grooming not only removes a cat’s loose hairs and dead skin cells but also helps keep the coat free of dirt, debris and distributes natural skin oils along the hair shafts.

Cat Carriers

Black and white long hair cat coming out of a cat carrier

Whether it’s a dreaded visit to the vet, a stay at a cattery or even a house move, we all need to take our cats out of their environment every now and then. As a territorial species, this can be incredibly stressful for them so the easier we can make it the better.

An appropriate cat carrier is a must. They can be quite expensive but a good one should last for many years. Carriers that can be easily cleaned and have a top section which can be completely removed are a good idea as it allows a cat to remain in situ in the bottom half of a carrier during veterinary examinations which can be helpful for nervous cats. Choosing a plastic carrier also means it can be easily cleaned if there are any ‘accidents’ on the journey.

Tip: Use a calming spray such as Pet Remedy or Feliway® inside the cat carrier approximately 30 minutes before before putting a cat inside. One spray in each corner and two sprays on the floor and ceiling may help to give your cat some well needed reassurance whilst travelling.​

Cat Flaps

Tourtoiseshell cat sitting in a kitchen looking at a cat flap

These can be both a blessing and a curse for cats and us. On the one hand it means that cats have the freedom to access the great outdoors without you having to act as doorman and woman, but on the other they represent a possible means of entry for other cats and therefore place our cats in a vulnerable position.

However, if you are thinking of installing a cat flap there’s more choice now than ever before and they’re becoming more sophisticated. The only cat flaps I now recommend are those that work by reading a cat’s unique microchip number. This means that your home and your cat’s sanctuary is safe from any interlopers and this can drastically reduce the chance of stress-related or territorial behaviours occurring such as inappropriate urination and urine spraying.

Tip: If your cat is reluctant to use the cat flap try placing some cat-safe potted plants in front of the cat flap to provide him with some camouflage when he exits. You can find guidelines on how to train your cat to use a cat flap here.

Cat Safety Collars

Tabby cat wearing a red cat collar

Cat collars can provide a certain degree of reassurance for owners when it comes to identifying a cat that’s gone missing and being able to contact his owners, but there’s a downside. Some collars such as the buckle-type can easily get caught on branches and other objects outdoors which can lead the cat to getting his foreleg stuck in the gap between the collar and his neck in an effort to remove it. This can cause appalling injuries. nnIf you are thinking about putting a collar on your cat, please make sure it’s one that has a safety catch. Even if your cat does have a collar, it’s also important to ensure your cat is microchipped.

Tip: Remember to keep your cat’s microchip details up-to-date by notifying the microchip company of any change of address.

Pet Sunscreen

Owner applying sunscreen to the ear tip of a white Siamese cat

Pale cats are just as prone to sunburn and their associated diseases as we are. It’s therefore vitally important that you remember to protect your fair felines when they go out in the sun. There do appear to be more pet sunscreens available now, but before buying any I would recommend speaking to your vet.

Tip: For For those cats who will insist on going out in soaring temperatures, providing them with a shaded area in your garden will allow them to enjoy the sights and sounds that they love whilst keeping them cooler.

Outdoor Cat Houses

Two siamese cats sitting on the platform of an outdoor activity centre

Providing your cat with height and shelter in the garden in the form of a cat house or climbing frame can be a great way to enrich his alfresco experience! Outdoor cat houses seem to be fairly widely available online at places like Amazon and I’m sure a small dog kennel would serve the same purpose.

Although outdoor cat climbing frames don’t yet appear to be mass produced, there are now a number of small businesses that are making them such as Cat Climbing Towers. They have some lovely designs on their web site or will custom-make one to your specification.
Tip: If you’re going to buy a cat kennel try and ensure it has separate entry and exit points (or a door that can be fitted with a microchip cat flap) to avoid your cat being cornered inside by a neighbouring or cat, or even a cat from the same household.

Anti Anxiety Supplements

ginger cat looking out of an igloo bed appearing anxious

We might not always realise it but cats are ‘stress-heads’. This is because they are not only a top of the range predator, but are also prey for larger mammals. This means that they are always looking out for threats that might compromise their survival and as a result have an inherent need to be in control at all times, especially those cats that are inherently anxious. If control and predictability are removed from their lives they can become chronically stressed which can not only lead to the manifestation of behaviour problems but can be the cause of physiological changes which lead to disease and conditions such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).

Recent advances in veterinary medicine means that there are now supplements available that we can give our cats to manage stress. Although these are freely available on the internet, they should be given to your cat on the advice of your vet and are most effective when used as part of a complete stress reduction programme. If you think your cat might be anxious get in touch with your vet to discuss the options.

Did You Know?
If a mother is stressed during pregnancy and lactation, this can inhibit brain development in her unborn kittens and can lead to kittens that are poorly adapted to coping with life’s stressful situations or encounters.

Pet Calming Diffusers

Pet Remedy packaging and Feliway Diffuser

A few years ago we’d never heard of these products but now pet calming products such as Feliway® and Pet Remedy are a fairly commonplace sight in the homes of many pet owners. nnThey can both help to reduce anxiety that may lead to stress related behavioural problems as well as reducing tension in multi-cat households.

Pet Remedy is a clinically proven special blend of low dosage valerian essential root oil with small inclusions of vetiver, basil, and sage. It works alongside the natural relaxation pathways to help calm the nerves of anxious or stressed cats. For more information visit the Pet Remedy web site. Feliway® works by emitting a synthetic version of feline facial pheromones which is used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. As with other stress management products, Feliway® is most effective when used as part of an overall behaviour modification programme. For further details on how Feliway® can help your cat and how to use it visit the Feliway® web site.

NB: Always consult your vet if your cat is showing signs of stress. Your cat’s problem may have a physical cause and require clinical treatment.

Cat and Household Flea Treatments

Close up of cat fur being parted and cat flea treatment being applied

As much as owning a cat brings mainly positive benefits, they do come with some less than appealing ‘hangers-on’ (quite literally). At best fleas can be an inconvenient menace and at worst their bites can cause cause an allergic reaction in some cats known as flea allergy dermatitis which can be very distressing for cats and costly for us if they need veterinary intervention to treat the allergy. nnHowever, there are now some effective products available to prevent a flea infestation both on your cat and in your home, but do remember when buying flea treatments to take account of your cat’s weight in order to give him or her the correct dose.

Did You Know?
Fleas can drink up to 140 per cent of their own body weight in blood!

Cat Urine Stain and Odour Remover

Ginger and white cat sitting on a white carpet next to a urine stain

One of the most common behaviours that I get asked about is cats urinating on carpets, sofas, duvets, piles of clean washing – in fact I seem to spend my life talking about cat wee! If you are experiencing this problem with your cat it would be wise to seek the advice of a cat behaviourist. But in the meantime you might need something to clean it up with! nnThere are a variety of urine stain and odour removal products on the market, so my advice would be to do your research and buy one that is specifically designed for cat urine. Remember though that any product of this type can only be reliably effective if used on freshly deposited urine – so it might be wise to keep some in your cupboard just in case.

Or you can use the following home-made version:

  • Make up a solution consisting of 1 part biological washing powder with 10 parts water.
  • Lightly rub the soiled area with the solution using a clean cloth.
  • Put some fresh water in a clean atomiser bottle (such as a plastic bottle for spraying plants) and spray the area.
  • Pat the area dry with some kitchen towel.
  • Put a small amount of surgical spirit in a separate clean atomiser bottle and lightly spray the area.
  • Let it dry before allowing the cat back into the room.

​​Tip: To avoid competition over the indoor toilet facilities in multi-cat households Is strongly recommended that you provide one litter tray per cat plus one extra in different locations, where practical.

Frosted Window Film

Ginger cat looking through glass patio doors above decorative window film

You might be wondering what this has got to do with cats, but this type of product can be a great way of reducing a cat’s stress by shielding them from the sight of another cat through a full-length glass patio door. Not only can the sight of a neighbouring cat sticking two paws up at your cat through the window be stressful, in some situations it can lead to a cat redirecting his adrenaline-fuelled aggression onto whoever happens to enter the room at that moment, be it another cat that lives in the house or his owners.

The film is static which means it doesn’t use any adhesive to stick to the window and therefore can be peeled off without leaving any residue. It comes in a huge variety of patterns and can be very attractive! Applying it to a height of about 3 feet from floor level should do the job.

Tip: Providing a tall modular scratching post in front of patio doors will allow your cat to survey his outdoor territory from a high vantage point, giving him a sense security should any cats decide to pay a visit!

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful!

Clare Hemington

Clare has worked in the field of cat behaviour for sixteen years. She is an accredited Cat Behaviourist and respected member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers. Clare believes that understanding cat behaviour is key to their overall welfare. Through consultation and education her aim is to share information with owners that enables them to give their cat a life that is as happy as it possibly can be. Clare is also founder and owner of Honeysuckle cat toys. Toys made from Tatarian honeysuckle wood which provide wonderful natural enrichment for cats.

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