TIME: You write that you're against declawing.
Tracie Hotchner: Oh, violently. It is illegal everywhere in the civilized world except the United States. It is a barbaric practice, in which not just the claw is removed, but the entire first joint of the foot is removed with a garden clipper they cut off the entire toe at the first joint. So you have animals that are butchered and experience extreme pain, and no longer have the use of their feet for all the things that cats use their feet for exploring the world, jumping up and down, playing with things. If there are scratching issues, people have to be taught to have appropriate scratching posts in the right place, in the right way, for each individual cat. You learn how to clip the tip of the claw, which is very, very simple. It takes five or 10 seconds.
What about a cat that is very shy?
It's an uphill chore to socialize them, to get them to come into more relaxed contact with humans. They probably come from a feral cat background, and were not touched or socialized as babies. You're working against their genetic and early childhood experience. But you can get them out of it with an understanding of what makes a cat tick, which is not to go to them and not to try to urge, coax or demand anything of them. You have to let them come to you and ask for it. That of course takes a lot of patience and is just frustrating, depending upon your personality.
What about feeding your cat? In your book, you say dry food leaves cats dehydrated, causes obesity, makes them sick, and the like.
My big campaign is to get people off of dry food. The message of Cat Chat is: Think outside the bag. Dry food is kitty crack. It's addictive, and incredibly harmful to your cat. Of course, that goes counter to everything your vet tells you, and everything that advertising tells you. But when you start to feed cats wet food, their personalities will change, anywhere from 10% to 100%, toward affectionate and relaxed.
You recommend not leaving food out all day.
Cats are not a grazing animal. They're not a sheep; they're not a horse. They're an animal that should eat a mouse or two, then, if they're lucky, another mouse or two later, if it's a good day. But they can also go 24 hours without food. In reality, that would be just fine, but that's hard for us [to understand], because we like to think of them and ourselves having nice warm tummies. Two meals a day is really to suit the human experience.
Hairballs are a constant problem. Is there anything that can be done?
Feed wet food. You can add a little pat of butter on top, so that the hairball goes out the other end instead of coming up regurgitated.
You warn people with cats to put their toilet seats down. Why is that?
Some cats have drowned. There are cats that love to play at water many people will leave a little drip going in their sink, and cats can play for hours in the dripping water. So, what happens is they go to play in it, and the sides of the toilet bowl, needless to say, are very slippery. If the seat is down, but the lid is up, there is really no way for cats to get out. There's nothing to get a grip on, not even the edge of the toilet because the seat is over it. Keeping the lid down is like putting a childproof gate around your swimming pool. Cats can only play in water supervised. You can give them a little dish to play in, or a little low bucket, with you around.
You also warn about leaving cats alone too much. But people commonly think of them as solitary animals.
They do. And it has been very useful to accommodate human guilt and a human lifestyle to think, "Well, that's just a stationary object that can take care of itself." In fact, while they aren't a pack animal, they're very sociable. Cats who sit on the back of a couch and don't even look at you when you come into the room and stare out the window what they really are is depressed and lonely, and they've learned how to survive in a highly understimulated environment. To me, that's not very kind.
Many people with cats have litter box problems. Do you have any advice?
People have never been taught how to [attend to] a litter box properly. Cleanliness is next to godliness. People have never really been told that a litter box has to be kept squeaky clean. A cat is a very finicky creature. [If the litter box is dirty,] the cat will choose elsewhere. The other thing is the number of litter boxes: You need one per cat, plus one for the house ... When there are two cats, there [could be] territorial issues. By having multiple boxes, you make it more pleasant for them and you lower the chance of litter box problems. Once the out-of-litter-box issue begins, it's a lot harder to undo it than not letting it happen in the first place. A cat [usually] pees around the house for a couple of reasons: a) it's an unneutered male, and it's spraying; b) the cat has a urinary tract infection. [That's] the most common reason for out-of-litter-box issues.
Dogs and cats in the same house O.K.?
Great! Adorable. You just have to make sure that the introduction is done well. As long as you don't have a prey-driven dog, or if you've raised them from puppy- and kittenhood so they view each other as family members, you're fine. You always want to make sure that the cats have somewhere to escape to, in case the dog or dogs get rowdy. So a good cat tree (or the back of a sofa) is always a good idea.
Do you believe in having indoor-outdoor cats?
No. There are some people who live in Idaho, next to a national park, who've called in: their cats will undoubtedly have been killed by something larger than themselves. They're a delicious snack, for anything from a hawk to a cougar to a raccoon. For [other cat owners,] the No. 1 killer of cats is cars. The average lifespan of an indoor-outdoor cat is seven years. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 21 years. So that pretty much says it. Outside, you have feral cats carrying disease; you have dogs that attack; you have cars, cars, cars. So, the current thinking is that [house]cats may not be outside without an enclosure.
What's your advice for someone who wants to get a new cat?
I always suggest first that they adopt. Luckily there aren't really that many kitten mills and not that many cats for sale in pet stores, so I don't have to urge people away from that as much as I do with dogs. I'm a shelter person but not a fanatic, and I fully appreciate that people want a purebred cat. There are many people drawn to particular breeds, in which case definitely [go] to a breeder, never to a pet store. The reason is that any proper breeder meaning anyone who is dedicated to their breed actually signs an agreement, if they belong to that breed's organization, that they will never place a kitten in a pet store.
What's wrong with pet stores?
What's wrong with the kitten and puppy mill industry is that it's basically an abuse of the breeding stock. Those animals are kept like chickens or pigs in pens, with feces and urine raining down on them, minimum nutrition, minimum medical care, no socialization of the newborn, no socialization of the parents, no exercise for the parents, no stimulation of the parents. People have this kooky idea that they're rescuing a pet from a pet store. They're actually perpetuating a very abusive industry, in which the mark-ups are 200%, 300%, 400%, 500% at each step of the way.
I've heard of people being vegetarians and not feeding their cats any meat. What do you think of that?
I think they should buy a bunny rabbit. Cats are obligate carnivores, and eat 98% meat.