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How to train a cat to play fetch

Can you train a cat to fetch? You definitely can, as proven by video after video on the internet where cats bring back toys on command as though they were dogs.

Is it really that unusual? Many people believe so, though in reality retrieving objects comes rather naturally to cats. Think about it. If you have an outdoor cat, you have likely seen dead mice on your doorstep. How did the mouse get there? Your cat brought it home. A cat loves to carry prey around in their mouth, which is the same reason they like to play fetch.

A cat playing fetch
Cats love to play fetch because it resembles their natural drive to carry around their prey. Photo by Tony Harrison, cc

Therefore, training your cat to fetch is a win-win situation: your cat gets to express part of his natural behavior and interact with you, and you get to engage in a fun activity with your cat and possibly teach your cat a trick that will amuse your friends.

A step-by-step guide to training a cat to fetch

A QUICK NOTE: The timing of training is important. If you attempt to motivate your cat with food, you won’t achieve best results right after feeding them. Right before mealtimes isn’t a great choice either because your cat may be unable to concentrate on the task, though this can vary from a cat to cat. The best way to “activate” your cat’s training mode is by playing with your cat for a few minutes using a toy or a wand. When your cat is up and alert, he’s ready to get started with training.

  1. Get a toy that your cat likes. It doesn’t have to be a toy though, it can be a hair holder, a crumpled up piece of paper, a toe spacer, or any other type of object your cat is happy to play with and able to pick up in his mouth. If your cat already carries toys around in his mouth, this will make the training easier. If your cat doesn’t really love to play, it may be that he is not toy-driven. Don’t give up, check out this article about getting an unwilling cat to play. Maybe he just needs to figure out how fun it can be to play, especially with you! Once your cat is willing to play with the toy, then training can begin.
  2. Throw the toy a short distance away from your cat and say “fetch!” How short a distance? It’s better to start within a handspan or so, but it depends. Your goal is to entice your cat to go after the toy while being close enough that you can give him a reward as soon as he does. The cat will then learn to associate the reward with the toy and understand that the task is a co-activity with you. It’s important to say “fetch!” upon throwing, because your cat will learn to associate the command with the action right from the start.
  3. Say a cue word when your cat goes after the toy. We recommend first saying “yes,” which can be followed by a command name. Talking to your cat is not a requirement of teaching them to fetch – you’re using a sound/word to serve as a cue for both the desired behavior and the subsequent reward. Any word will work as long as it is short and is consistently used during training when the cat does the desired behavior. It is important that the word be spoken in the same tone and voice each time, which is why it is better to use “yes” in a calm, friendly tone. (Cats are actually capable of recognizing spoken words.) The word could be anything – it could be “no” or “car,” as long as it is consistent – but why choose anything else than “yes” if it makes things easier? From time to time, add “fetch!” right after the “yes!” as this will further help your cat to strengthen the association between the action and the command.
    Note: for better results, instead of a word you can use a clicker — a device (or a pen) that emits a “click” sound. The best part of a clicker is that the sound lasts for a fraction of a second, which allows you to pinpoint the EXACT moment when your cat does the desired action. Clickers are commonly used in training animals for complex tasks, and you can learn more about using a clicker in training here.
    Note 2: If the cat does not go for the toy on the first try, pick it back up and start playing with him. Once his attention is on the toy again, throw it a second time, but at a shorter distance. Keep repeating this and making it closer as needed to entice your cat to engage with the toy, even if you have to drop it right next to you on the floor.
  4. Couple the cue word with a treat. For as long as you are training your cat, he will not be motivated enough to get a “yes” (or a click) from you unless it means something. For most cats, the best motivator is food; thus, you have to couple the cue word with a treat every time you say it. This way, your cat will learn that “yes” means something good.
    cat receiving a treat in training
    Cats love food and it works great in training. Photo by J Jongsma, cc

    Commercial treats are the most convenient to use here, but dry food or small pieces of cooked meat can also work. Check out this article to learn more about treats in cat training. Once you say the cue word, give the treat as soon as possible and your cat will learn to associate the word with a treat.

  5. Repeat the previous steps several times. That is, throw a toy, wait for your cat to go after it, say “yes, fetch,” and give him a treat. Repeat this several times in one sitting and in repeat sittings as often as you find practical. At this point, your cat likely understands that once he goes after the toy, he will hear a cue and get a treat. Once the cat understands what you want and goes for the toy almost every time, you will have taught him the first part of learning to fetch. Now it’s time for the next step.
  6. Withhold the treat until your cat grabs the toy with his mouth. Most cats will reach for a toy with their paws. Before when your cat used his paw, you would say the cue word and give him a treat, but now you should wait until the cat eventually uses his mouth to get the toy. As soon as you see this action, you want to say the cue word and dispense a treat. If it seems like your cat is struggling to move on to this step, reward small steps in the right direction. Give your cat a treat as soon as he touches the toy with the tip of his nose and proceed accordingly, only rewarding him as he gets closer and closer to putting the treat in his mouth.
  7. Take it one small step at a time. From now on, the training will carry on in small fractions. This method is used to train all different kinds of animals to do complex tasks. For example, teaching pigeons to play table tennis. The concept behind behaviorism is that you train the animal one step at a time, rewarding each increment toward the desired behavior, no matter how small. Once a step is mastered, you want to push it to the next increment. Bear in mind that often the next step is performed randomly by chance, but once you start to reward one particular random step consistently, it soon becomes a deliberate choice.
  8. Chug along. Your cat now understands that he can grab a toy in his mouth to earn a reward. Now, if you withhold a reward, he is equally likely to drop the toy or keep it in his mouth. To continue fetch training, you should only reward the cat if he keeps the toy in his mouth for a while. Once he has mastered that, you can take the next step and reward your cat only if he stands up with the toy in his mouth. After that, reward him only when he starts to walk with the toy in his mouth. Once your cat masters this behavior, reward him only when he starts to walk in YOUR direction. And after that, reward him as he comes closer and closer to you with the toy. Don’t forget to say “yes” or “yes, fetch!” every time you observe the behavior you want before giving him a reward.
  9. Final step. Now that the cat comes to you with the toy in his mouth, you can either call it good or add a final touch – it’s up to you. If you give your cat a treat, he will likely drop the toy he is carrying in his mouth on the floor to eat the treat.
    cat toy used in fetch training
    Victim. Photo by Ville Säävuori, cc

    Instead, as a final step, you can either wait for your cat to drop the toy to dispense the treat, or you can extend your hand and have the cat drop the toy in your hand. In the latter case, you should only reward the cat when the toy lands perfectly in your palm. If not, skip the reward and repeat the process. The cat will soon actively seek your hand to place the toy inside it and get his treat. At this point, you can proudly say that you have taught your cat to fetch. Don’t forget to praise your cat for being such a great sport and fun play buddy!

The ultimate advice is that you should become familiar with your cat and observe what comes easy to him. The cue word or click must come at the exact moment when your cat does the desired “next step” in the fetch routine. If your cat is reluctant to proceed, take a step back and spend time reinforcing the last learned action. Repeat the previous step few more times and proceed only when your cat consistently does the right thing. If you follow these tips, you’ll teach your cat to fetch (and impress your friends) in no time. Then the two of you can get to work on mastering something new.

Does your cat know and recognize his name?

Do my cats understand their names, or do they just come when they hear my voice saying random words” is a question that cat owners often ask themselves. Conveniently, a recent publication in Scientific Reports tried to answer just that question.

At first, the idea that cats recognize their names seems undeniable. After all, when you call them, they come or turn their heads toward you. But if you think about it for a second, you might not be so sure about what they actually respond to. Besides, you know scientists. They are never satisfied with “everyone knows that”!

Cat rapping Eminem song about its name, parody, funny

We have three cats ourselves, which is not much by any standards, but whenever we call one of them, nine times out of ten all three come running. Do they come because they hear our voice? Do they recognize the tone of our voice? Or maybe a sequence of a fridge opening and then hearing their owner’s cheerful voice?

What if … what if cats respond to their owner’s voice and tone, instead of their name? What if a cheerful two-syllable word would create the same response as a cheerful “Daisy!”? Would she respond if you called “Lazy, lazy, lazy, come here!”? She likely would.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo discovered that cats do understand human vocal utterances and can discriminate their names from the names of other cats and from nouns with the same tone and length.

Some news websites reported the study with titles such as “Scientists talked to cats…” and “you won’t believe what they heard.” Slightly exaggerated.

Did scientists really talk to cats?

So, what did scientists find out about cats recognizing their names? Before answering that, we should first examine what they did. As suspected, they did not actually talk to cats; they played recorded lists of words to cats followed by their names.

Words preceding the cat’s name were either nouns similar to the particular cat’s name in length and tone or names of other cats from the same household. The words were recorded not only by the owners of the cats but also by strangers. This helped to measure the possibility that cats may just respond to their owners’ voices.

While playing the records, scientists scored the responses of cats in several ways, including by movement of the ears and head and vocalization.

The main idea was that cats are likely to respond to human voices (especially their owner’s), though, if words are gibberish to them, they would soon lose interest. Subsequently, once cats lose the interest, they must regain it upon hearing their name. Under certain conditions they would recognize it.

Do cats recognize their names?

So, what did scientists find out? The short answer is: if they care enough, cats CAN understand their names.

The claim goes slightly further, because it also suggests that cats can discriminate human utterances, which might have some implications for successful training — giving commands might not be useless in cat training — they might be capable of telling the difference between “don’t you dare!” and “sure, go ahead!” even if you say both in a calm manner.

A woman talking to her cat
From now on, no one should call you a crazy cat lady if you talk to your cat. Photo by Evgeniia Kuzmich.

The longer answer is that cats did regain interest in the recording upon hearing their names in this particular study. At least, those who lost it in the first place and those who live in households did, which suggests that cats can discriminate their names from words that are similar in length and tone.

Not all cats responded equally, though. First, cats residing in cat cafes did not. This might make sense if we assume that cats in cafes care less about their names, but it requires additional investigation, because the study focused on a single cat cafe.

Another group worth mentioning is cats who live in multi-cat households. They were less likely to lose interest upon hearing the names of their roommates. This, however, does not mean that cats cannot discriminate their names from other cats’ names. One who did lose interest actually regained it upon their own name. What is more likely is that cats in multi-cat households are used to responding to all names, simply because if owner calls any of them, it’s worth it to check why.

Thus far, the study has demonstrated that cats recognize their own names when owners call them. But what if it depends on the specific owner’s tone? That is why the scientists also used recordings of voices that are unfamiliar to the cats. They found that, even though the amount of response was lower, cats clearly recognized their name uttered by strangers.

This suggests that while the component of the owner’s voice is important when a cat responds to their name. But it’s not all there is. Cats are capable of recognizing their names phonetically, based on how the name sounds.

It should be noted that the mentioned study is actually the first time scientists tried to test whether cats recognize their names. Surprisingly little study has been done on cats’ ability to communicate with and understand humans.

Thus far we know that cats can pick up human emotions, understand hand gestures and pick out their owner’s voice from a stranger’s. Now we not only know that cats do recognize their names, but we also have solid ground for communicating to cats through verbal cues. It may not be the same as talking to them, but it is almost just as good.

Is it necessary to deworm an indoor cat?

How often do you need to deworm your indoor cat? Do indoor cats get worms at all? There is a popular myth that indoor cats are never exposed to parasites and, therefore, there is no need to deworm them, but that is not true. Here is a list of the four most probable ways your indoor cat can get worms.

an indoor cat getting his worm medicine - not happy about it
Indoor cats need to get worming medicine too — no matter how much they don’t want it. Photo by Erik Newth, creative commons

Ways your indoor cat can get worms

  1. Fleas. Fleas are parasites, but they can also have parasites of their own. Isn’t nature just too beautiful? In fact, fleas are a common carrier of cat, dog and human internal parasite larvae. When a cat or a dog ingests a flea, the larvae travels to their next host—your pet. It is also a common for a dog to lick their owner’s face or for a cat to take food from their owner’s dish (without permission), in which case the larvae can travel to the human, but that’s another story. Where does an indoor cat get fleas? Fleas are often carried indoors on our shoes or clothes, and it does not matter if your house is generally clean (or even spotless). You would not likely notice a single flea (it might not even bite you), but flea would make a beeline straight for your cat once it came inside.
  2. Worm eggs. Several parasite species propagate by having host animals ingest their eggs, which are found in the environment. Worm eggs are often brought indoors on our shoes and clothes. Is your cat sniffing around your outdoor wear to check where you’ve been? Most cats do, as they are curious animals. And we all know what curiosity does to the cat; it gets them worms, at the very least. To help prevent this, keep your house clean and store outdoor wear out of your cat’s reach.
  3. Other pets. Do you have other pets that go in and out? Maybe a dog who you take for a regular walks? Even if he isn’t infested himself, that pet can transmit parasites to your indoor cats, regardless of whether they come into contact or not. They share the same environment and parasites are experts at infiltrating a new environment and finding viable hosts. In practicality, this means that when one of your pets has worms, others are possibly susceptible. When you deworm one of your cats, it is best that you simultaneously do the same for all the other animals in your home. Remember, deworming is purging, it does not provide immunity against future contact with worms, therefore it’s best to minimize future cases by taking preventative measures to ensure that none of your pets get worms.
  4. Food. Are you feeding your cat a raw diet? We do not actively discourage this. If you do it right, it can be a premium nutritional balance for cats. If you like to give snacks to your cat, raw meat is typically the best option; however, raw meat is also a way for indoor cats to get worms. It’s not that common, but still possible. The good thing is, the risks are negligible if you select sources of ingredients carefully and comply with hygiene guidelines during the preparation process.

Do you need to deworm an indoor cat?

Indoor cats have smaller smaller risk to get parasites compared to that of outdoor cats; however, most veterinarians suggest to deworm indoor cats as frequently as outdoor cats. Why?

This is because it’s not possible to tell when your cat will be exposed to worm eggs or larvae again; therefore, you must provide preventive medicine on a regular basis.

How often should you deworm an indoor cat? This depends on several factors, such as where you live, how clean you keep your home, what other pets live in your household, what medicine do you give them, etc. Most commonly, cats require deworming anywhere between every three to twelve months (note: one deworming consists of two medications, usually administered two weeks apart). Talk to your veterinarian about the schedule that suits you best.

Remember, keeping your cat indoors does not eliminate the risk of getting parasites. Although indoor cats have reduced risk, the risk is still here, and plausibly high. Therefore, regular deworming is the best preventative option if you want to keep your indoor cat free of parasites.

Reasons for white cloudy water in aquariums and possible solutions

Is your aquarium water white and cloudy? Are you not sure whether this is something you should worry about? Most people without experience would probably freak out if they started a new tank, added a few fish, and bang—one morning they woke up and the aquarium water was all in a white fog.

White foggy aquarium water tuned into clear water

But there really is no reason to worry when this happens, since this is not a big problem and can be solved easily. Actually, in many cases it might even go away on its own.

Reasons for white cloudy water in aquariums

There are two common reasons for foggy water in an aquarium, and the good news is that neither of them are dangerous.

  • The most common reason for white cloudy aquarium water is bacteria bloom, or a rapid growth of bacteria. Bacteria does not necessarily mean anything bad is happening. As you might know, bacteria are everywhere, and aquariums actually rely on the presence of bacteria to run properly, as they help to break down waste products created by your fish and plants. These little guys are called beneficial bacteria; they grow on aquarium filter media, in gravel, and on decorations and other surfaces. The waste products created by fish are nutrients for beneficial bacteria, and the waste products of bacteria are, in turn, nutrients for plants in the aquarium. Sometimes as new fish are added to a tank, bringing new nutrients for bacteria, the bacteria can start to grow in extreme speeds and therefore make the water cloudy.
  • The second most popular reason for hazy aquarium water is insufficient cleaning of new gravel. New gravel is covered with dust and has to be rinsed before being placed inside a fish tank. If you do not rinse the gravel, all those dusty particles will float up as you fill the tank and make it look cloudy.

How can you tell what is making your tank water cloudy? If you recently added gravel, it could be either of those reasons, because new gravel is also a perfect place for bacteria to grow. Normally, if the water is cloudy because of dust from the gravel, it will settle in less than a day. If it stays cloudy longer, it is most likely a bacteria bloom.

What to do if aquarium water has become cloudy

If you concluded that your water is foggy because of bacteria (the most common cause), then there is nothing much to do—the water will become clear within two to three days. You can, however, check the oxygen level in your fish tank. There’s no need to test—just check whether the fish are gulping for air, moving their gills rapidly or are becoming inactive. If you see any of those signs, you can turn the air pump on for a prolonged amount of time or replace part of the water by using a bucket to remove a portion and then dumping in some new water.

If, however, you suspect that the root of the problem is insufficient cleaning of the gravel, you can opt to remove the gravel, rinse it and then put it back. It’s a lot of work, but it will make the aquarium environment much friendlier. It’s fine to leave it in and wait until white dust particles settle down and the water becomes clear; however, keep in mind that the water will become foggy each time you partially replace water or rearrange the gravel, though the effect will fade over time.

So, while it may look concerning, we cannot stress enough that, in most cases, cloudy water is not a problem for aquarium inhabitants. As long as they have enough oxygen, your fishy friends will be fine and the water will soon become clear with no damage done.

Why do female dogs go in heat

Female dogs that are not spayed will eventually go into heat. And if you’ve never had an experience with an intact female dog, you might find yourself confused about what is happening to your dog. When a dog goes into heat, she licks herself more often, there is a red discharge from her private area, and her personality might seem a little off. You might become nervous along with your dog, and this may end up a nightmare. What is going on?

Your dog is in heat, that is what’s going on. The best way to prevent this from happening is to spay your female pets, which is a reasonable thing to do if you do not plan on breeding your dog.

Women may understand female dogs in heat better, though human menstruation only distantly resembles heat in dogs. Photo: soloway.

But what is “heat” and why does it affect dogs? The reason your dog is acting in a way that is hard to bear is due to her reproductive cycle, often referred to as the “heat” cycle. The heat cycle is part of your dog’s reproductive system. The function of the heat cycle somewhat resembles a woman’s monthly menstruation, though it is slightly different and, luckily, dogs come in heat only twice a year.

So, how does the heat cycle differ from the human menstruation cycle? For humans, menstruation occurs after ovulation and only if the ova has not been fertilized. Dogs, however, are considered “in heat” before ovulation, and their cycle actually makes them slightly anxious to mate, causing behavioral changes like restlessness.

The complete cycle consists of four phases: Proestrus and Estrus, when the dog is referred to as being “in heat,” and Diestrus and Anestrus, when the dog is not in heat.

Don’t let yourself be confused about these fancy words—they all come from the Greek root “oistros,” which means frenzy. The prefixes pro-, di-, and an- mean “before,” “second,” and “not accordingly.” Thus designating times when your dog is almost in frenzy, in frenzy (no prefix), once again in frenzy, and not in frenzy.

Each part of the heat cycle generates different hormones that influence your dog, working together to help make the miracle of the birth happen…or not happen.

  1. Proestrus, or before being in frenzy, is a preparatory stage which gets your dog ready to be in heat. A red discharge from the vulva usually appears at this stage.
  2. Estrus, or true heat, will likely be the most difficult part of the heat cycle for you. This is when ovulation occurs and the uterus is receptive to implantation. In this stage, your dog will be extremely attracted (and attractive) to males. Even if you consider your dog to be extremely well trained, she will likely find it difficult to listen to your commands in this stage. This is also the phase when your dog is able to become pregnant.
  3. Diestrus is the part of heat that is responsible for sustaining pregnancy in the event that a successful mating occurs. As the prefix di- suggests, this is a second frenzy, though your dog will not actually be frenzied during this time. The start of this stage will be evident when a female refuses to “stand” for mating. No matter if a female has become pregnant or not, her body produces hormones to sustain the growth of the fetus which cease only when diestrus is over after one to two months.
  4. Anestrus is the last part of the heat cycle in which the reproductive system takes a rest and gains strength to undergo the next heat cycle. This normally means the dog is not in heat and can last for several months, after which the cycle begins again, and the dog will go into proestrus once more.

So what now? If you have noticed some unusual behavior or discharge, your dog is likely at the stage of proestrus or estrus. You’ll have to be tough and hold in there though, because once started, the cycle cannot be interrupted. As mentioned before, the best option to prevent your doge from going into heat is to spay her, however, if heat has already started, your must wait for it to end before doing the surgery. In order to help you with the struggle in the meantime, here are several tips to help you on your way.

This article is a part of series about dogs in heat.

Why do cats scratch and what it means for your sofa

Why do cats scratch? At a first glance, this looks like a question, but we all know too well that it’s more a cry of despair. “Oh, why!? Why does my cat scratch? Why can’t he be normal and not destroy my sofa, carpet, doors, table legs and other pieces of furniture – especially the new and expensive ones?!”

Many pet owners suspect that scratching is a biological need for cats. Few people today still believe the myth that cats scratch things because they are mean. If you happen to be someone who still believes this, let us reassure you that this is not the reason cats scratch. Cats are nice fellas – it is their nature which makes them shred different objects. Even big cats like lions and tigers scratch trees, even if the owner of the tree has done nothing to earn their ire.

cat scratches a carcass of wooden furniture
Scratching is a biological need for cats. Photo: grigory_bruev

In this article, let’s delve deeper into the question of why cats need to scratch. What that means for cats living in a household environment, and whether there is any way to help your cat meet the need to scratch while simultaneously retaining the quality of your furniture.

The maintenance of claws provided by scratching

When people consider why cats scratch, the first thing that comes to mind is that they are sharpening their claws. This is, in a sense, correct, though the word “sharpening” may not be completely accurate. What cats are actually doing is tearing off the outer (older) layer of their claw sheath. It reveals a fresh, stronger, sharper, never-used-before claw underneath. You’ve probably found these “claws” on the floor near the scratching post or sofa. Don’t worry, this is totally normal. There is nothing wrong with your cat, it is natural.

Thus, since this is a natural thing for cats, this supports the argument that cats need to scratch, not because they are mean, but because it is natural for them to do so.

Scratching helps cats get rid of the old sheath on their claws. But that can’t be the only reason they scratch, right? If it was, this issue could be solved by regularly trimming your cat’s claws. But it isn’t. Cats whose claws are clipped still scratch the furniture, though they typically do much less damage to the furniture, if any at all.

Recommendation 1: clip your cat’s claws. It will not stop them from scratching, but it will reduce the damage to your belongings.

Maintenance of claw hygiene, however, is only a part of the answer for why cats scratch. The next reason is likely more important to your cat and is definitely game-changing for cat owners struggling with damaged furniture.

Scratches mark the territory

Cats mark in territory in different ways, not just by spraying urine. They also spread their scent from their paw pads on their forelegs. Scratching deposits pheromones—special chemical signals that can be sniffed by other cats in order to acquire an information about the cat who left the mark. Besides pheromones, scratching also leaves clear visual marks that can be identified by other cats.

Recommendation 2: place several scratching posts throughout the house. Scratching marks territory and is useful only if the marks are present in several locations rather than just in one a distant corner convenient to humans.

Why is this marking necessary? Cats naturally have large territories that partially overlap with the territories of other cats. While pet owners often view marking as a claim of ownership, that isn’t quite accurate. Cats don’t really mind to partially share their territories with other pets; their territories are so large that it’s not really practical to mind. At the same time, it’s important that they are informed about any other cats in the vicinity and advertise their own presence.

Kitten scratches orange fabric sofa on white background
Scratching leaves visual marks that can be seen by other cats. You’ve probably seen the marks too. Photo: Patchanu Noree

Marking is an excellent communication tool since it sends scent and visual signals over distance and time. Don’t think of it as a border post in a human sense; it’s more like writing on the wall. This has some relevant implications, because border posts would go along borders, but writing typically appears along commonly taken paths and crossroads.

Recommendation 3: place a cat tree along high trafficked paths. For example, if a cat often naps on a windowsill in the bedroom and then travels to a food bowl in the kitchen, offering the cat a legal place to scratch (scratching post or pad) along the way is a good idea.

Also, note that scent tends to dim over time. This is good for communication; the strength of the scent indicates the amount of time that has passed since it was deposited. This tells a rival cat whether or not the cat who left the mark is still in the vicinity. And, because of that, a scratch mark must be refreshed upon each visit.

Recommendation 4: if your cat scratches the sofa, he is more likely to continue scratching it in the future to refresh the old mark. Block access to the scratched location, for example, by covering it with double-sided tape. Don’t forget to place a scratching post in a vicinity. Even better, block the previously scratched location by placing a scratching post right in front of or on top of it.

Cats scratch for body exercise

Cat scratching while reaching up and stretching
Photo: Yuliya Lapkovkaya

The added benefit of scratching is the stretching exercise it provides. If you’ve ever had a backache, you likely understand the intuitive desire to grab a bar and stretch you back by hanging on it. Letting gravity do the stretching while you hold the bar feels good. And, if done on a regular basis, it can actually help your back and prevent backaches in the first place.

Cats stretch all the time. Writer, former marathoner and running coach, Hal Higdon, actually suggests that runners should learn stretching from cats; a cat never asks for prescribed exercises, they just do what feels good, all the time.

One of things that feels good to them is to reach up the trunk of a tree (or a wall), drive their nails inside the surface, and let their own weight and gravity do the stretching for them.

Recommendation 5: Make at least some of the scratching locations in your house either tall posts or pads placed high enough that a cat can reach it only by “standing up” on their hind legs. This will let your cat grab the post, dig in, and stretch his muscles.

As we mentioned above, scratching serves several purposes for cats. It’s not just the maintenance of claws, as most believe. Scratching also provides a form of exercise and is a part of communicating over distance and time. Scratching is useful to cats in so many ways that they actually can’t go without it; therefore, it’s more practical to provide enough locations that your cats can legally scratch, instead of trying to teach them to avoid it altogether.

Does you fish tank need an air pump for aeration?

Water aeration is among the most beautiful features of an aquarium, but it is rarely considered whether an aquarium needs an air pump or not. Does your fish tank really need those tiny air bubbles? Can you go without aeration, and can too much aeration do harm? Let’s find out!

Air bubbles in aquarium. Guppy and red fish.
Aquarium aeration creates beautiful bubbles. Photo by Thatsaphon Saengnarongrat

The short answer is that aeration is not mandatory in most cases and is not bad in most cases either. In most cases.

To find out what the other cases are, let’s first clarify what aeration is, and what those tiny bubbles in the fish tank are good for. As you might expect, they have something to do with an oxygen, which is what fish use for “breathing” though their lungs.

To be more specific, fish need water that has enough dissolved oxygen, and bubbles are one of the ways to increase this. Note: do not confuse dissolved oxygen in water with the oxygen that is a part of the water molecule H2O. The latter is unavailable to fish for breathing, but the actual gas O2 that is dissolved in the water is what fish need.

How does oxygen get into the water? It does so from the room air at the water’s surface. The problem is that when the water of the fish tank stands still, the oxygen that enters the water is slow to move away and does not let many other oxygen molecules dissolve in the water. To overcome this, you need to stir things up a bit.

An aerator makes tiny air bubbles that instantly float up to the surface and explode upon reaching it, making a physical force on the surrounding water and oxygen molecules. In turn, water starts to move and gets stirred. Therefore, in short, aeration is a tool to mix aquarium water, so the dissolved oxygen gets spread evenly throughout the volume of the tank and the surface can absorb more oxygen from the air.

As you now see, aeration is not mandatory if your fish tank already has good water circulation and enough dissolved oxygen. But how do you know?

How can you tell if your aquarium water has too little dissolved oxygen? The surest way to tell is to test it. It is possible to buy aquarium testing kits in pet stores for all kinds of measurements, and dissolved oxygen is one of them. You can also take a look at how your fish behave. Signs of too little oxygen are low activity, gulping for air at the surface and rapid movement of gills.

Note, though, that low oxygen is not necessarily best corrected by adding an air pump. Here are several ways to determine if there is enough dissolved oxygen in your fish tank’s water:

  • Solve underlying problems. The most common cause of low oxygen levels in aquariums is having too many fish (that is, too many consumers of the oxygen), and too high water temperature (warmer water can hold less oxygen). In either of these cases, you can add as many air pumps as you want — it still won’t solve the problem.
  • Powered aquarium filters provide enough water circulation to ensure there is enough dissolved oxygen in the water. Besides, many internal aquarium filters have an option to turn on or off generation of small air bubbles coming out of the outlet nozzle, thus further improving the mixing of the water.
  • Live aquarium plants, just like any other plants “make” oxygen, too. They take dissolved carbon dioxide out of the water and turn it into oxygen. In fact, if you have live plants in your aquarium, you have to be careful and monitor their well-being if you choose to have an aerator for aesthetic purposes, because aerators also let carbon dioxide (which plants need for food) escape from the water.

Air bubbles, of course, also increase water circulation, but today it is wiser to see them as an aesthetic tool that looks cool.

How to set up an aerator in the fish tank

So, if you decided that air bubbles will look nice in your fish tank, it is easy to set them up; here are things you will need:

  • Aquarium air pump - Tetra Whisper 20Air pump – We suggest not going for cheaper devices. Air pumps can be the loudest pieces of aquarium equipment, and so you want to get a quality pump that is silent.
  • Air tubes – Plastic tubes that run from the outlet of the air pump to the fish tank. These are usually flexible and come in many different colors.
  • Air stone – A porous stone to which a tube is attached. If you put an end of the tube inside the fish tank, it will create only a few large bubbles, which looks more messy than beautiful. The porous material of an air stone separates the air flow into many parts and creates thousands of tiny, beautiful air bubbles. Stones come in different shapes: some are round, while others are elongated, allowing the bubbles to be spread across a larger area. This choice is just a matter of design. Do you want a small source of bubbles in one corner, or a wall of bubbles at the back of the tank? It’s up to you.
  • Regulator valve – Unless the output of the pump can be regulated on the device, you want to place the valve inside the line from the pump to the air stone to modify the air flow. If you notice that the bubbles create a storm inside the aquarium, you’ll be able to turn it down a bit.
  • Check valve – A valve that lets air and water move only one way. When the pump is off, the water is able to flow backwards into the tube, which can reach the pump and damage it or flood your living room, unless you have a check valve installed in the chain. Alternatively, you can place the air pump above the water’s surface, but this can be impractical if you want the equipment to be hidden from view.
  • Plug-in timer – You can turn the pump on and off manually, but it is much easier to have a timer. A plug-in timer not only frees you from this responsibility, but also ensures that the bubbles are on for the necessary amount of time. In the beginning, we recommend turning it on for only a few hours each day, and if the plants respond well, you can then increase the time.

As we have said above, most aquariums, especially if they contain live plants or powered filters, will do fine without an air pump; however, many find air pumps to be one of the most beautiful aspects of keeping fish. Thus, they can be implemented at will.

How to prevent your dog from eating too fast

Not all dogs are fast eaters, but many are. You can tell your dog eats too fast, when he is impatient as you reach for the bag of kibbles, or when half of the food disappears as you finish filling the bowl. The situation is not at all unfamiliar to us. But, in fact, many dog owners will confirm that their dogs are not only quick eaters, but also act like they are starving, even if it isn’t true.

Welsh Springer Spaniel eating rapidly
Photo: Frank Gaertner

So is there anything you can do to prevent your dog from eating too quickly–or, at least, to slow down his voracity? Before that, let’s delve into a question whether quick eating can cause problems.

Is it bad that dog eats too fast?

Maybe that’s just the way it is, and so be it? Unfortunately, the situation can become bad. First comes the annoyance–it really is hard to fill the bowl with your dog’s head in the way, and it is also frustrating when your dog finishes a meal in seconds and then acts like it never happened. More dangerously, however, it can lead to medical problems. After all, it is already proven in humans, that eating in a rush is wrong on almost every level imaginable. And dogs are no different.

Besides the direct risk of choking, coughing, or vomiting, long-term problems may arise from numerous things associated with rapid eating. These include air gulped among the bites, increased agitation from speed eating, and partial chewing of food, which leads to improper digestion.

Ways to slow down your dog’s eating speed

The good news is that there are things to do to slow down your dog’s eating habits. Training, however, isn’t one of them.

dog eats too fast ancient aliens meme

Therefore, your best shot is to modify things that surround feeding time. Here are several things you can try:

  • Prevent other pets near your dog’s food. Competition is a natural reason why your dog eats too fast. In fact, if there is a dog who is a lazy eater, one way to soothe it is to feed him near other pets. On the contrary, if you have two dogs who eat as if it is a race, feeding them at a distance or in separate rooms can help. Having a cat lurking around your dog’s bowl while he is eating, is not helpful either. So prevent this from happening—feed the cat at the same time or lock him in another room until the dog finishes. We suppose, it’s not going to take long.
  • Use a slow feeder bowl. This is a bowl that has several grooves at the bottom, so it is not easy to grab a mouthful of food. Pet stores offer plenty of varieties, not only for dogs, but also for cats. The common thing about these bowls is that they are hard to eat from, what is exactly what you want. Alternatively, you can go for a food puzzle, which not only slows your dog down, but also mentally stimulates him and reduces boredom. Not all dogs love food puzzles, however, so we recommend that you start with a slow feeder.
  • Try a food hunt with your dog. The idea is simple: feed only half of the food at a regular meal, and hide the rest of it in small batches throughout the house or garden. Start with easy-to-discover locations that you can help with. Later, you can go for more advanced locations and use all of the food during these hunts, eventually forgetting your dog has ever had “regular meals”.
  • Feed from a large plate or surface. This is among our favorites. Do not concentrate the food in a small bowl where a dog can grab a mouthful of food. If you serve the food on a larger plate or a baking tray, or simply scatter it over a broad surface of the floor. Then eating will take more time as the dog can only grab a piece or two at a time.
  • Do not feed your dog when he is excited. Okay, most dogs are excited about food, which is why there is a problem in the first place. But consider other sources of excitement, most commonly, the excitement of you returning home. It’s convenient to feed a dog upon arriving, but he is simultaneously excited to see you. He’s gulping rapidly not only because the food is delicious, but also because he will get to interact with you as soon as he finishes. How about postponing the meal for, let’s say, half an hour after your arrival? Unless you are really late and the dog is starving, it’s okay to come home, greet the dog, have some time to interact first. Provide food only when his excitement (about you) has gone down. Please note, however, that you shouldn’t change the feeding schedule abruptly. It’s better to gradually shift your dog’s meal to a desired time.
  • Use kibbles made for slower eating. These are kibbles that are large in volume but small in mass. They are either porous, hollow, or are shaped like doughnuts. Many foods for large breeds are already made like this. For example, one might wonder what is so special about a dog food intended specifically for Labrador Retrievers. Do they have different nutrient needs that other dog breeds? Not exactly, it’s mostly marketing. But Labradors are indeed prone to fast eating, and therefore their kibbles are designed to be helpful if the dog eats too fast. Therefore, when he grabs a mouthful of kibbles, it actually contains less food.
  • Switch to wet food. Wet food contains more volume for the same amount of nutrients. Therefore each meal will also be larger and take more time to consume. An additional benefit is that wet food provides satiety sooner than kibbles. Wet food is more expensive and less convenient for feeding, but it does, on average, provide better nutrition than dry food.
  • Provide more meals and space them out evenly. The majority of people feed their dog two times a day, which is a good choice in most cases. However, often the reason that dogs eat too fast is too much time since the previous meal. If you feed your dog, for example, at 9 AM and 6 PM, the gaps between the meals are nine and fifteen hours. Ideally, however, they should be as close to 12/12 as possible.

Remember: it is natural for dogs to eat their food as soon as possible because nature is harsh. If they did not eat it on time, someone might take it away. Luckily, your dog now lives in an environment where his food is safe, unless the cat snatches something, that is. Other than that, it’s safe and reasonable to try and soothe your dog’s rapid eating habits a bit. His survival abilities will not suffer from that. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

How to choose the best filter for your aquarium

The cleanliness of aquarium water relies on a functioning water-filtration system. But there are so many of them, that it is easy to get confused. In this article, you will learn the basic concepts of maintaining clean water in your fish tank with the help of aquarium filters. We will explain the stages of filtration, and familiarize you with the most common aquarium filter types.

Aquarium filter pipe and a fish
Photo: Maria Itina

What is filtration? Most people understand it to be the removal of waste. But filtering is actually more than just that, and consists of three steps.

  • mechanical filtration removes solid and dissolved particles from the water.
  • biological filtration converts fish waste products into plant nutrients with the help of microorganisms.
  • chemical filtration removes other wastes and contaminants that could not be removed in the previous steps, most commonly with a help of activated carbon,

Most aquarium filter types provide all three of those steps. But which type is the best choice for your particular needs?

Most common aquarium filter types

Below is a list of most common aquarium filtration systems. If you are just starting with an aquarium hobby, you better go with one of these.

  • Internal submersible filters are suitable for aquariums up to 50 gallons (200 liters) and are the easiest to use. If you have a small fish tank, we recommend you to go for this option. The filter is an easy-to-install, standalone device, which is attached to the inside wall of an aquarium and pushes water though its sponge-like filter media. First, it is purely a mechanical filtration. However, once bacteria start to grow on the media, it also provides a biological filtration. Most filters have two to three media pads that can be taken out, rinsed, or replaced when needed, and some filters have an option to put in a media that contains activated carbon, also providing a chemical filtration.
  • External canister filters sit below the fish tank. They take in and then return water to the aquarium through attached hoses. Obviously, such filters require a harder setup, and they usually cost more that internal filters. The added benefits, however, are that they can be cleaned without putting your hands in the fish tank and that their filter media can be customized. They usually contain several slots for filter media, which unlike internal filters, can provide several mechanical filtration stages (coarse, medium and fine)—one after the other. This fact makes it more efficient and prevents clogging. You can also add a filter media special for your needs. For example, some fish species require slightly acidic (pH < 7) water. In such case you can insert a media containing peat, which acidifies the water on the go. The same holds true for other parameters that cannot be bought out of the box. If you test and find that your water is rich in phosphorus (a common cause of extensive algae growth), add media to reduce that.
  • Clip-on power filters are similar to external ones, only they are clipped on the side of tank and sit slightly above it. There are no hoses to attach, but not all fish tanks have a space for them if you already have a hood on top of the tank. It is a common choice for out-of-the-box starter kits for beginners, since the hood and everything else is already made for the specific filter. Note, though, if it breaks at some point, you will need to replace it with an exact same filter model or replace the fish tank’s hood.
  • Gravel filters use the gravel as a filtration media. These filters must be installed during the setup of an aquarium, because a large plate is installed beneath the gravel. A large surface area means improved biological filtration. Biological material trapped in the gravel also means more nutrients for the plants, and there is also an added benefit that the filter is not visible; there are tubes that run along a back wall and corner, but they can produce bubbles, making them actually cool. It may be a struggle to set up a gravel filter, but, when done right, it works like a charm.

There are other filtration systems available, though not as common. Most beginners are likely to deal with internal or clip-on filters. If you come across a system not mentioned here, do not hesitate to ask the salesperson to explain how it works and seek information on the manufacturer’s website.

Note that whatever filtration system you choose, it relies heavily on beneficial bacteria that provide biological breakdown of waste-products. This means, that, whenever you set up an aquarium, you should run it for several days before adding fish so that the bacteria have time to multiply and colonize the filter media. More on this when we talk about setting up an aquarium.

How to heat up and cool down an aquarium

Maintenance of a correct water temperature is a basic need for keeping a tropical aquarium. In most cases, all it requires is a good water heater, though occasionally quite the opposite, a cooling down, is required.

Aquarium thermometer temperature in fish aquarium
Photo: Miroslav Pesek

Well, controllers do exist, but they are not devices. They are just controllers. They can measure water temperature, and tell when the heater or cooler should be turned on.Yet, they still are two separate devices.

How to heat up an aquarium

Let’s start with the heating, since this is what the majority of aquariums require.

An increase in aquarium water temperature is usually achieved by the use of submersible electric water heaters that have a thermostat (a temperature controller) function. The heater is attached to the inside wall of the fish tank with suction caps, and the cord runs out of the tank to be plugged into a regular outlet.

The heater is set to turn off when a specified water temperature is reached, and it turns back on when the temperature drops below it. Essentially, the heater turns on, off, on, off all the time to maintain the needed water temperature.

Even though you set the desired temperature, you still have to have a thermometer. We recommend a glass thermometer that sits inside the tank. They are precise and affordable.

If you prefer, stickers attached to outside of the tank can be used. (We don’t, but that is a personal preference.) They are precise enough. Electronic thermometers are an unnecessary luxury, in our opinion, especially because readings of cheaper-end devices tend to be unreliable.

How high a temperature should you set in your fish tank?

The water temperature required in your fish tank depends on the fish species that live there. Most tropical fish feel well in the range between 69 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 25 Celsius). Thus, if you are unsure, set it somewhat in the middle of that range. However, it’s always much better to look up exact temperature requirements for the species of fish you have in your tank. A Google search for “[species name] temperature range” will give a reliable answer if you look up several pages.

Most tropical fish have a range of suitable temperatures spanning several degrees. For example, Neon Tetra can occupy aquarium with a temperature between 70 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 27 degrees Celsius). Look up for all the species you have in your tank and choose a temperature point that satisfies every species. For example, if you have other fish species that have a range between 65 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, your chosen temperature MUST fall between 70 and 73 degrees.

IMPORTANT: if you conclude that you cannot find a temperature that suits all the species, then you have chosen fish that cannot be kept together.

How to cool down an aquarium

Heating up aquarium water is as easy as plug and play. But what if, during summers, your fish tank’s temperature goes up along with the room temperature? Are your fish in trouble?

Sure they are; if the temperature exceeds the suitable maximum for species inhabiting your tank, then they are in trouble. A mild increase of the water temperature can cause discomfort and stress, whereas further increases can lead to more serious problems and even the death of the fish.

While cooling aquarium water is harder than keeping it warm, you do have several options:

Place frozen water bottles in the tank.

This is a quick solution for smaller tanks and it costs almost nothing. You have to prepare in advance, though, and freeze several water bottles the previous day. The magic of this method is not coolness of the ice that cools things around it, but because the melting of ice requires additional energy, which is taken from the heat of surrounding water.

For example, the melting of two 20 oz. water bottles can bring down the temperature of 20-gallon fish tank by one and a half degrees Fahrenheit (alternatively, melting one liter of ice can bring down the water temperature in a 100-liter fish tank by one degree Celsius). The rest is linear math.

If you have an aquarium twice the size, take two more bottles. If you need to bring water temperature down by three degrees, take three times more ice, or put in even more and remove them once the temperature has dropped enough. As you see, larger tanks will require a lot of ice, but it is manageable.

Blow a fan across the surface of the fish tank.

This method is similar to melting ice, since it also utilizes a change in the water’s state, but in this case from liquid to gas. Blowing a fan across the water surface increases the rate of evaporation, thus helping to cool the water more quickly.

Evaporation requires energy, which is taken from the heat of the water. The amazing part is that the technique can cool down water below the room temperature. Sounds impossible, though it isn’t. You’ve probably experienced a similar process in action yourself, since the same mechanism is utilized by your body to cool down though sweating. The sweat evaporates at the surface of the skin and your body heat is utilized to make it happen.

Good news, you do not need any fancy equipment for cooling down an aquarium. You can buy fans that can be attached to the side of an aquarium, but that is a mere convenience, not a hi-tech tool. They are still what they are: regular air blowers.

If you have any portable fan, lift up the aquarium lid ever so slightly (if it does not contain lights, you can remove it completely) and set a fan next to the fish tank to blow across its surface. Don’t forget to monitor the temperature, as you do not want to under-cool it. Also note, that the water will evaporate rapidly and you may need to refill it.

Bring down the temperature in the room

If you live in an area where the temperature climbs often, this is likely the most sensible option. Instead of worrying about cooling down the tank, install an air conditioner in the room where the tank sits. It is more expensive than other methods, but is also better in the long run. Besides, you will be able to enjoy the luxury of cool air in your living room. If, however, there are only few hot days per year, the other methods mentioned above might make more sense.

Most aquariums, however, rarely require cooling. Unless you are in a hot weather area and your house has no air conditioning, you are likely to encounter problems with rising aquarium water temperature only once in a while. As with heating the tank up, there is usually no problems. Submersible heaters are affordable and easy to set up.