Cat pheromones: do they work?

I can’t speak for all pet owners but pet pheromone products have been pushed at me from all quarters – pet shop associates, veterinarians, trainers, and even other pet owners! I was initially recommended pheromone products due to car- and moving-induced stress in my pets but if you pick up any brand pheromone dispenser and you will discover a  multitude of potential applications. (Urine marking, inappropriate scratching, multicat tension, excessive barking, hiding, etc.) These products cost a pretty penny too – around $30 for a diffuser or spray, $15 for a pheromone-infused collar. So it begs the question: do pheromone products work?

Photo credit: Trish Hamme via Foter.com / CC B

What are pheromones anyway?

Pheromones are a means of chemical communication. Although not completely understood, it is thought that animals perceive pheromones through a specialized receptor in roof animal’s snouts called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). The VNO does not always pick up pheromones, however – it has to be activated by the animal. Have you ever seen a cat, intrigued by a new smell or etc., open her mouth and “pant” with her tongue out? That behavior is called “flehmen” and it’s function is to suck pheromones into the VNO.

Animals use pheromones to communicate a wide array of messages: territorial marking, sexual receptivity, spatial orientation and emotional stabilization, assertion of social status, alarm marking during fear reactions, appeasement of infant animals – and those are just the pheromones that scientists understand (and there are loads whose functions are unknown).

Scientists and pet product companies have developed synthetic pheromones that can be purchased at many pet stores and veterinary offices. Several types of pheromone dispensation products are available: passive diffusers that are plugged into a wall outlet, pheromone-infused collars, pheromone-infused wipes, and pheromone sprays.

What could pheromones do for cats?


Photo credit: Sander van der Wel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Considering that our pets live in a world full of smells, veterinarians and behaviorists have  been exploring the application of pheromones to treat animal behavior problems because, when used correctly, they are completely non-toxic, have no side effects, and involve little effort on the part of owner or pet. The therapeutic use of pheromones to treat behavior problems in pets is called pheromonotherapy.

The principle of pheromonotherapy is pretty simple: use synthetic pheromones to communicate a useful message to a pet displaying a behavior problem. Many behavior problems are the result of fear and anxiety in pets, so using a pheromone with an emotional stabilization function – like the pheromone cats release when they rub their chin on something to distinguish it as “known”. Reduction of feline spraying has been a target of numerous pheromonotheray studies – no doubt because this is a common and extremely aggravating behavior problem for cat owners. Scientists have also evaluated cat pheromones in calming cats during transport, prior to intravenous catheterization, in preventing stress-induced anorexia, and facilitating the peaceful introduction of unsocialized cats.

So…do pheromones work?

There are real barriers to the success of pheromonotherapy. First, animals generally do not communicate by pheromones alone. Usually there would be a multitude of body signals or vocalizations that would accompany (and emphasize) the pheromone message and open up the VNO so that the animal perceives the message.  Secondly, pheromones may “prime” an animal’s emotional state to be receptive to a behavior modification program but it is unlikely that pheromones alone will completely address behavior problems.

Thus the importance of the scientific evaluation of pheromonotherapy! All of the studies that I read about the use of pheromones for emotional stabilization, i.e. for behavior problems like urine marking, inter-act aggression, transport-induced stress, stress-induced anorexia (see Sources below), were all suggestive of a positive effect. The general consensus is that the longer pheromones were used (4+ weeks), the better the effect. Additionally, many cats maintained improved behavior after pheromones were removed.

I did find a very critical meta-analysis, which is a study of studies. This meta-analysis looked at all available pheromone studies and found that most studies had significant problems with design and/or analysis, such as small sample size, the absence of blinding or randomization, and the lack of a control sample. These problems prevented the authors from agreeing with the positive findings of the individual studies. However…I had problems with the meta-analysis’s problems! The principles of “robust” clinical research aren’t always ethical – especially in a situation where, say, you’ve got an owner whose cat is spraying all over the house and euthanasia is seriously on the table. Furthermore, the funding opportunities for these studies don’t seem to be abundant so gathering huge sample sizes may not be possible. I did not find any study over stating its findings and hopefully the examination of pheromonotherapy will continue to provide additional information.


Photo credit: jenny downing via Foter.com / CC BY

TL;DR

We have reasonable evidence to suggest human-applied pheromones (or pheromonotherapy) can be helpful as part of a behavior modification program for a cat displaying certain behavior problems, especially urine marking and inter-cat aggression. Best results have been seen in prolonged use (4+ weeks) of pheromonotherapy.

 

 

Sources

  1. Frank, Diane, Guy Beauchamp, and Clara Palestrini. “Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 236.12 (2010): 1308-1316.
  2. Mills, Daniel S., Sarah E. Redgate, and Gary M. Landsberg. “A meta-analysis of studies of treatments for feline urine spraying.” PloS one 6.4 (2011): e18448.
  3. Griffith, Cerissa A., Elizabeth S. Steigerwald, and CA Tony Buffington. “Effects of a synthetic facial pheromone on behavior of cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217.8 (2000): 1154-1156.
  4. Mills, D. S., and C. B. Mills. “Evaluation of a novel method for delivering a synthetic analogue of feline facial pheromone to control urine spraying by cats.” RIVISTA DI ZOOTECNIA E VETERINARIA 30.1 (2002): 50-51.
  5. Kronen, Peter W., et al. “A synthetic fraction of feline facial pheromones calms but does not reduce struggling in cats before venous catheterization1.”Veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia 33.4 (2006): 258-265.
  6. Gunn-Moore, D. A., and M. E. Cameron. “A pilot study using synthetic feline facial pheromone for the management of feline idiopathic cystitis.” Journal of feline medicine and surgery 6.3 (2004): 133-138.
  7. Frank, D. F., H. N. Erb, and K. A. Houpt. “Urine spraying in cats: presence of concurrent disease and effects of a pheromone treatment.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 61.3 (1999): 263-272.
  8. Pageat, Patrick, and Emmanuel Gaultier. “Current research in canine and feline pheromones.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 33.2 (2003): 187-211.
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Journal Article: How to Not be a D#@% to Your Cat

IMG_2540Have you ever considered that cats, creatures that we commonly deem to call “owned”,  are a totally different species to ours?  Because cats are relatively common aspects of our households, the fact that their needs to totally unrelated to our own frequently goes overlooked. Dr. Meghan Herron and Dr. Tony Buffington published recommendations for cat owners to provide good health and welfare for their feline friends. Furthermore, ensuring good health and welfare can pre-empt or ameliorate many cat behavior problems! The authors divide their advice into five systems in a cat’s world: physical resources, nutrition, elimination, social, and behavior. My summary of these experts’ recommendations for each system is below!

  • Physical Resource System (Home!)
    • Indoor cats benefit from secure, seclusive “microenvironments”. These are spaces that a cat can go to be away from loud noises, other home inhabitants (both four- and two-legged), and removed from other things that may stress the cat.
    • Multi-cat households may experience a range of cat-on-cat sociality. Cats may prefer a social distant from other cats in the home of between 1 to 3 meters, which includes both horizontal as well as vertical distance!
    • Introducing something new to the cat – food, litter, etc. – should be offered near to the current whatever is being replaced so the cat can choose the preferred item.
  • Nutritional System (Nom noms)
    • Cats are solitary hunters of small prey, so offering food in puzzles that must be manipulated by the cat to release food away from other animals in the household may mimic cats’ natural feeding habits.
    • Cats that are “finicky” about their food may be responding to a perceived threat in their environment.
    • Offering multiple sources of water, including running water from a pet fountain, may benefit cats.
  • Elimination System (When you gotta go…)
    • Multi-cat households should have at least one litter box per cat, plus one additional, kept out of sight of other littler boxes.
    • Covered, self-cleaning, or too small litter boxes may disrupt a cat’s normal elimination behavior routine, which may cause inappropriate elimination (i.e., going outside the box)
    • Cats seem to prefer clumping litter, which should be scooped daily, the entire contents should be dumped weekly, and cleaned with mild soap and water monthly.
  • Social System (You talkin’ to me?)
    • Other living creatures in cats’ environments basically fall into three categories: threats (dogs, humans); competitors (other cats); and prey (birds, fish, pocket pets).
    • Having a perception of control can decrease stress for cats: let cats determine the timing and location of interactions with other species (as safety permits).
    • Multi-cat households may experience inter-cat aggression to due a multitude of reasons: health problems, inadequate resources/space, social status conflicts due to other animals inside or outside the home, etc.
    • Cats may prefer avoidance (silent conflict) to aggression (open conflict).
    • Cats that experience conflict may never be best friends but can usually learn to live together tolerably, sometimes with the help of a certified behaviorist.
  • Behavioral System (A cat’s gotta do…what a cat’s gotta do)
    • Cats must be permitted to display normal behavior to ensure adequate welfare but many normal cat behaviors can be “undesirable” to owners, including scratching, chewing and playing.
    • Directing otherwise “undesirable” towards desirable outlets provides an enriched environment, which can be accomplished by providing outlets that appeal to the cat’s natural behavior.
    • Cats prefer to scratch things after rest and that allow them to hook their claws into it. Poles covered in sisal rope or real wood logs may be good options, placed near common sleeping areas.
    • Cats can be enticed to chew on cat-designated plants (such as live catnip) by rubbing the plants with tuna or wet cat food, and likewise discouraged from chewing non-cat-designated plants by spraying them bitter sprays from pet stores. Pet toxic plants should be removed from cats’ access!
    • Providing a rotating variety of toys (wand toys, stuffed toys, battery-operated self-propelling toys, balls, cat-nip filled toys, laser toys, etc.) will encourage normal cat behaviors like pouncing, stalking, chasing, and biting of said toys (and discourage those same behaviors direct toward the owner’s hands/feet/etc!).

Sources Cited 

Herron ME, Buffington CAT. Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats.Compendium (Yardley, PA). 2010;32(12):E4.

Renting with Pets: Tips from (at this point I should be) a Pro

IMG_2564My family of wife + husband + two dogs + two cats are about to embark on our third move in just over two years (quite a long story, with the happy ending of my husband’s PhD program and my well-paying, career-strategic job miraculously being in the same city). Since we are a such a mobile fur family, renting has been an unfortunate necessity for us! Below are some things that I’ve learn so far about renting with pets in tow.

Renting with Pets

  1. Take GREAT care of your pet. The best piece of evidence that you can provide a potential landlord that you and your pets will be great renters is a great rental and veterinary history. Give your dog enough exercise and mental stimulation so she doesn’t tear up the vinyl flooring. Get your cat to the vet regularly to head off any medical problems that may cause inappropriate elimination. Make sure everybody has enough positive human interaction, toys and activities to be healthy and happy.
  2. Find a nice person that owns a rental property. This little gem came from a dear friend. If you have more than one pet, or large dogs, or a dog that may be difficult for a property owner to insure, or an exotic pet, it’s probably best for you to skip right past ads from large property management firms or gigantic apartment complexes. Chances are, the property owner is not going to take the time to consider your individual circumstances and why you are a good renter. Instead, focus on property owners that have one or two units and provide more information that required to prove you are a great renter. Yes, this does take some trial and error if you are going primarily from Craigslist or Zillow! Ask friends or relatives for suggestions and keep at it!
  3. Make a pet resume for all your pets. A short, one-page document with your pets’ photos, veterinary history, training achievements and other charming details (age, altered status, likes/dislikes) about your furry family members can highlight just that: your pets are part of the family. Landlord don’t want to rent to pet owners that let their cats wee all over the carpet because the litter boxes are never clean or whose dog chewed all the baseboards because he never got enough exercise. If you can make the case that your pets get everything they need to be healthy and happy (because they are treated like family), a prospective landlord may be more willing to give you a shot.
  4. Take training class and get certificates. So, this may be easier for dogs: sadly, the intellectual abilities of cats are not typically advanced through organized classes. But if you have a pooch, take a few training classes and provide a certificate of completion with your rental application. This is just another piece of evidence to provide your future landlord that you are a responsible pet owner!
  5. Keep calm and keeping searching. It’s going to take some time to find a rental property that will take in your family if you have a lot of pets or unusual pets. You may encounter some unpleasantry (my choice favorites: “Can you get rid of the dogs for a year?” – where exactly would I put them?, “I would need to charge extra for the cat smell.” – my cats don’t smell, because I don’t live in filth, thanks, “Are they aggressive breeds?” – and then after I tried to explain aggressive breeds don’t exist, they hung up on me). It can be frustrating to Persevere and find the rental of your dreams! Or at least, a rental!

My next post will focus on the strategies and tips that I’ve used to making moving rentals bearable for my pets and me!

2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Dogs, Cats, Rabbits, Ferrets and Small Rodents – OH MY!

I hope everyone had a decidedly happy Thanksgiving OR a particularly nice regular Thursday if Thanksgiving isn’t your thing! Since the holiday gifting season will soon be upon us, I thought it might be useful to put together a quick gift guide for any pet lovers in your life.

I’m guess you don’t already need convinced if you’re reading this post, but here’s some persuasive facts about pet owners in the U.S.: in 2013, Americans spent $55.74 BILLION dollars on their pets. In 2011, 63.2% of surveyed owners considered their pets as family members. What I’m trying to get at is that pet parents spend a lot of money (and time and energy) on our pets because we love them dearly. Besides giving a pet owner something they will actually want and use, a pet-themed present can be a reassuring token of acceptance for any owners struggling with friends/family members who view their pet as a sub-par substitute partner/spouse/child/additional child (honestly, those people will never be satisfied!).

The theme of this gift guide is PRACTICAL! I’ve tried to collect a range of gifts for dog, cat, rabbit, ferret and small rodent owners that will actually be used and enjoyed. Not to say that a pet webcam with treat dispenser wouldn’t be an appreciated gift, but it may not be the most pragmatic present!

For anyone:

Do you know the pet owner who has it all? Or maybe a pet lover who isn’t quite ready to adopt a furry family member? Make a donation to an animal welfare agency in that friend’s name. Many local humane societies will happily accept cash or pet supplies (check their website for a wish list), or have items for sale with their logo.

Is your pet-adoring friend passionate about animal legislation? Donate to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

If you’ve got a friend that’s mad about a specific breed of pet (like Golden Retrievers or Bengal cats), check for local rescue groups that help those particular animals and make a donation in your friend’s honor.

As always, don’t just give your money away – do some research on any organization before you donate!

For dog owners:

If you’re not a dog owner yourself, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that most dog toys come in different sizes depending on the size of the dog. It’s very important to get the correct size because too small toys can be ingestion hazards and too large toys could cause injuries like teeth damage.

Kibble dispensing toys (like the Tug-a-Jug or Kibble Nibble – read my review here) provide make mealtimes mentally stimulating for a pup while giving an owner time to make coffee/eat breakfast/get dressed in peace. No dog owner can have too many but it might be a good idea to slyly attempt find out if your dog-owning-friend has any already!

Refillable chew toys like Busy Buddy’s Jack Dog Toy or Starmark’s Everlasting Treat Bento Ball. These toys are great for medium-to-light chewers (dogs that are BIG TIME CHEWERS will likely be able to cheat by dismantling these toys). Or get refills, if you know your dog-owning-acquaintance already has one!

Another Kong. Sure, you’re dog-owning-compadre probably already has one but once they realize how convenient it is to open their freezer to TWO frozen, treat-filled Kongs, they’ll love you forever.

Finally, every dog owner could use more dog treats! You can get fancy and make some yourself (my pups really enjoyed these) or buy some. Keep in mind that many dogs have food allergies these days! Not sure about your buddy’s dog? Avoid treats with meat-based proteins and opt for peanut butter, fruit or sweet potato treats. READ THE INGREDIENTS – treats that are blueberry flavored (or similar) might still have meat products included!


For cat owners:

Many cat-owning households are multi-cat. Putting a few of these present ideas in a feline gift bag would be a super cute, affordable present that will hopefully appeal to all kitties in the home!

Cats thrive with mental stimulation just like dogs do. Kibble dispensing toys can be a great way for cat owners to add activity to even the most lazy cat’s day. My all-time favorite is the PetSafe Slim Cat Interactive Feeder but the Kong Active Treat Ball is a great option too. Read my full reviews here!

Something cat owners can never have too many of is toys! Wand toys, like this one from JW, can rev up a cat’s prey drive and provide some much-needed exercise. Assorted mice, balls (do your friend a favor and avoid the balls with bells inside) and other cat toys will always be appreciated.

A super fun tunnel can be a great way to make a cat’s playtime a little more interesting. It’s also a great accessory for cats who like enclosed places to hang out or sleep.

My final suggestion for cats may be a surprising one but: a chew toy. I bought one just to spend enough for free shipping on Chewy.com and have been totally shocked that my cats actually use it. Dental cleanings for cats aren’t cheap so anything that might delay them could be greatly appreciated by cat owners!


For rabbit owners:

Many non-rabbit-owning folks greatly underestimate buns! House rabbits live on average 10-12 years and they can even be litter trained! Rabbits are typically social creatures so bunny-owning households may have more than one rabbit. 

For rabbit owners, timothy hay  is an ongoing necessity for their rabbits’ digestive and dental health. It’s also a relatively cheap way to gift an oversized present! But seriously, timothy hay will never be unappreciated by a bunny owner. If you want to gift a fancier hay gift, oat hay is great for rabbits too and alfalfa hay can be given as a treat.

If you’ve never lived with a bun, rabbits are inquisitive and playful creatures. Just like cats and dogs, they enjoy a variety of rabbit-appropriate toys and treats, like barley biscuits and wooden chew toys. You can find some great options at the House Rabbit Society’s online market place (and support a great organization while you’re at it!).

Are you feeling crafty? Here’s a great list of bunny-approved crafting supplies: get to work! Check out Pinterest for inspiration.


For ferret owners:

Ferrets, like cats, can sleep 15-20 hours a day. But when they’re awake, they need a high level entertainment and enrichment. Ferrets love to tunnel under bedding and other things – all of this makes them easy to shop for!

Have you see ferrets play with toys? Like any kind of toy. It’s so totally adorable. It would be super cute to make a toy basket for a ferret owner with a few types of cheaper toys for their weasel friend!

If you’ve hung out with a ferret for any amount of time at all, you’ll know that they are enthusiastic sleepers. Thus my next present suggestion for a ferret owner: sleepy time cage accessories.

This playpen. I don’t think much else needs to be said – it’s a ball pit for ferrets.


For small rodent owners:

Many small rodent owners are older children and young adults, so gifting a small rodent-purposed present can acknowledge the responsibility that’s been taken on. These gifts also tend to be on the affordable side, so they could be group with a human-oriented present too!

Small rodents like hamsters enjoy burrowing in their bedding to sleep and, especially during the winter months, this fluffy bedding can make a ham’s bed extra cozy. This Shred-A-Bed also provides some enrichment for a small rodent, because they can tear the lightly compressed bedding fiber.

All rodents need to chew pretty constantly to maintain healthy teeth. There are many great and cheap chew toys available for rodents at basically any pet store, ranging from wooden baubles to straw houses to willow barbells.

Small rodents also frequently chew on their housing materials, so another useful present idea is cage accessories. Although these items take a lot longer to chew through than purpose-made chew toys, additional cage accessories can add variety for a small rodent.

Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Adopted My First Cat

I’ve had cats in my life since babyhood but since I acquired my own cat during college, I have learned a lot about being a good caregiver to a cat. I’ve picked up this information from many, many sources, including veterinarians, behaviorists, veterinary technicians and animal welfare workers but I’ve listed some web-based sources at the end of this post. I’ve obviously learned more than 5 things about cats since I’ve owned one but these are the 5 things that make a big impact on my cats’ happiness and harmony in my home.

1. Cats need things to climb 

I’ve always thought that cat trees are fun for cats but I really didn’t understand how important they are to indoor felines. It is natural behavior for cats to climb and, depending on the activity level in your household, an elevated space can mean peace and safety for your cat. For indoor cats, cat trees and alternatives (like those sold here and this DIY version) provide vital enrichment activities to keep your cat healthy and happy!

2. Using a litter box is second nature, having a solitary bathroom is not

As an adoption counselor at a humane society and a life-long cat person, I was surprised by questions such as, “How do you litter-train a cat?” from clients. Cat just use the litter box! It’s in their nature! And it is – cats instinctively want to cover up evidence of eliminations, probably to prevent predators from assessing their proximity. With unlimited territory, however, cats rarely eliminate in the same spot twice. It make sense, right? From an evolutionary point of view, a cat that traced back over their eliminations would be at high risk of contracting a fecally-transmitted pathogen so it makes some sense that this behavior wouldn’t survive. For our indoor felines, we can make their lives much nicer by cleaning their litter boxes daily and providing multiple litter boxes.

3. Stress can make cats sick – REALLY sick!

Dr. Buffington at The Ohio State University has conducted research that links a serious urinary tract disease in cats with stress. Another study by Judi Stella showed that stressed cats experienced nearly twice as much sickness as less anxious kitties, and that sources of stress for cats could be as “small” as unwanted affection, a dirty litter box or a change in routine. Illnesses in cats are no laughing matter: they can be difficult to diagnose, expensive to treat and could result in the cat being euthanized or surrendered to a shelter. Decreasing your cat’s stress levels means health and harmony for your home!

4. Ten minutes of play will go a long way

Cats are great pets for busy people because they sleep, on average, 15 hours a day. As ambush predators, cats sleep this much to conserve energy for the periods of intense activity when they hunt. For indoor cats, sleeping may be followed by a languid stroll to their food and water dish and a bout of looking out of the window before heading back to their bed. This is a really unnatural behavior cycle for kitties! Having a variety of cat toys can help a cat purge those hunting instincts, in addition to tossing the food dish and feeding your cat with an interactive toy, but your cat will really benefit from a mere ten minutes of play with you! One of my cats favors a wand toy while the other prefers to chase after balls or fake mice. (Try to avoid laser toys!)

5. Cats don’t “get” punishment

Cats can certainly learn through positive reinforcement like dogs do, but they just aren’t wired to understand what their human is getting at when they yell about scratching the furniture. It’s a lot easier for a cat to figure out that they get a reward for a certain behavior than to make the connection between a behavior and your displeasure and that they should stop that behavior to avoid your anger. Experts in cat behavior recommend using a cat’s environment to shape a cat’s behavior: deter scratching on “human” furniture with double-sided tape or aluminum and provide a better alternative nearby in the form of a scratching post or cat tree. As always, it’s important to acknowledge that scratching and other natural cat behaviors are subdued at the risk of the cat’s quality of life and welfare!


Sources

Buffington, Tony. Your Home Their Territory. Columbus: Ohio State U Veterinary Medical Center, OH.

Boatman, Kim. “Help for House Cats.” WPSD Local 6. Studio One Networks.

Buffington, Tony. “Why Claw Care Keeps Cats Happy.” Vetstreet.

“Look What’s New in Enrichment!” The Indoor Pet Initiative. The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

Product Review: Food Dispensing Cat Toys: Twist ‘n Treat, SlimCat Interactive Feeder, and Active Treat Ball Cat Toy

ProductTwist ‘n Treat and SlimCat Interactive Feeder by PetSafe and Active Treat Ball cat toy by KONG

Cost: $3-6 at online retailers like Chewy.com; $6-9 in most pet stores

Length of ownership: 1.5+ year

Review:

Let me start off by saying that I approve of all of these toys’ durability, inexpensiveness and effectiveness. They are all great ways to add activity to your cat(s)’s daily routine by getting Kitty to work for her food.

My favorite of this bunch is the SlimCat Interactive Feeder. It’s a spherical shape with that an swivel to make it harder or easier to dispense the food inside. That variable difficulty is why this toy is my favorite. With two different hole shapes (oblong and circular), it accommodates different kibble shapes and sizes. Additionally, you can choose to have the holes completely open or partially closed, which adds to the difficulty level. These toys are large enough to hold about a cup of food. A small complaint about this toy is that the lid to the toy is a tad small, which can make adding food from a measuring cup difficult. It’s easy enough to pour kibble in from your palm, so, as I said, it’s a small complaint.

My second favorite of this trio is the Active Treat Ball toy from KONG. This toy is egg shaped with an oblong hole at one end for the kibble to come out. The toy unscrews at the middle and can hold about 1/2 cup of a kibble. There is a cylinder in the middle of the toy so you can choose to put the kibble outside of the cylinder (easier to dispense) or inside the cylinder (more difficult to dispense) or both. This toy isn’t my favorite because it does hold significantly less food than the SlimCat toy and you can overload the cylinder so that the kibble gets jammed. I also didn’t see significant increases in the time it took my cats to get the kibble out when it was in the cylinder vs. the body of the toy, so this toy isn’t as adjustable as the SlimCat toy.

My least favorite toy is the Twist n’ Treat toy. This toy is an saucer-shaped toy that twists apart at the center and holds a scant 1/2 cup of a kibble. It is meant to be adjustable by screwing the two parts closer or farther apart but because it is made of hard plastic (instead of something with more grip, like rubber), as my cats batted around this toy, it either came apart or tightened up to the point that kibble couldn’t come out. It does essentially work – I’m not going to give it away (yet) – but the other toys in this post are way more effective.

Product Review: FroliCat Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy

ProductFroliCat Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy by FroliCat

Cost: about $20 at online retailers and in most pet stores

Available: Chewy.com* and other online retailers; most pet stores

Length of ownership: 1+ year

Review:

[Edit 11/06/2014: Please see my response to Dr. Marty Becker’s article on the safety of laser pointer toys for cats here. Out of concern for my cats’ mental health, I am reducing the frequency of their laser pointer play time and using wand toys/jingle balls/fake mice instead.)

The Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy is a robotic laser toy that will whirl around a laser dot for your kitties to chase for 15 minutes (it can also be used as a regular, although bulkier, laser pointer). I found this on clearance at a pet store for $10 and purchased it impulsively. Upon reflection, I have NO idea why this item was put on clearance because it is AWESOME! I mean, it’s a pretty basic idea – entertain your cat for 15 minutes with as much effort as it takes to push a button – so what could go wrong?

The Bolt toy takes 4 AA batteries, which weren’t included but have lasted over a year for me. The robotic part of this toy works by using a rotating mirror to reflect the laser point around the room. The tilt of the mirror is adjustable, which I found useful if I put the Bolt toy on a table vs. the floor. The best results that I’ve had with this toy, however, came when I put the toy in our attic crawl space (which I converted to a secret cat lair). Because the ceiling is so low, the laser point is never out of reach for my cats, whereas in a regular room, the laser point will inevitably go somewhere the cats can’t reach. This isn’t a big problem but occasionally, my cats would become disinterested in the Bolt toy if the laser point was out of reach for too long.

As much as my old cats enjoy the Bolt toy, this toy was heaven-sent when I fostered kittens and a momma cat. The kittens were endlessly amused with this toy and I was likewise entertained with their antics. After the kittens left for adoption, the momma cat had bouts of loud nocturnal activity. I turned on the Bolt toy before we went to bed and if she woke me up in the middle of the night to wear her out so that she’d sleep when we slept.

Even though I got this toy a half-price, I think it’s definitely worth $20 for cat owners! The toy does make some noise as it rotates around but didn’t keep me awake at night or similar. I would advise keep this toy away from dogs when not in use because my dog chomped on the top, which made the mirror tilt-adjustment a little wonky. (I don’t consider this a fault of the toy – it’s obviously not meant to be a chew toy!)

The FroliCat company says that this is a “pet toy”, suggesting that it can be used with dogs and guinea pigs and etc. I don’t have a guinea pig or etc. but I avoid using this toy with my dogs. I’ve heard a couple horror stories from veterinary behaviorists of dogs who developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) behavior in association with laser pointer play. I have no idea if laser pointers cause or contribute to OCD in dogs! However, the dogs required extensive psychopharmaceuticals and behavioral therapy to overcome their OCD behaviors in these stories. Personally, I’d rather not risk it for my dogs! They have plenty of other toys anyway…

*I regularly use Chewy.com to order dog and cat food as well as other pet supplies. I’m not sponsored by this company in any way. I LOVE them because they are affordable, have great customer service and fast shipping.