By Eric Stenson
Days are longer, temperatures are warmer and people are thinking about what they’d like to do with their summer leisure time. As companion animals become increasingly important members of the family, cats are now a much bigger part of the summer equation, along with a growing table of products designed to cater to their summer needs.
One of the biggest concerns about the summer is keeping cats safe from fleas and ticks, which become much more active as the weather warms. Some manufacturers emphasize flea and tick control through natural means, preferring herbal formulas to harsh chemicals. Susan Goldstein, co-founder and co-CEO of Earth Animal, takes particular umbrage at many flea collars, which she says are formulated with the equivalent of nerve gas.
“We see younger animals suffering from kidney and liver function problems,” she said. “There are alternatives to chemicals and drugs. The body should not be used as a carrier for flea prevention.”
Earth Animal makes internal powder and drops for feline use and is working toward development of a natural flea collar made primarily of herbal ingredients, expected to be ready this summer. Goldstein said the company developed its formulas by working with a master herbalist from the Green Mountains of Vermont, enhancing the blood of the animals to build resistance and work against fleas, ticks and mosquitos.
“Pesticides on animals stress their immune systems,” she said. “When that happens, you invite cancer.”
Safe Outdoor Spaces
Fortunately, summer for cats means a lot more than just protecting them from bloodsucking critters. Allowing felines to enjoy the great outdoors safely and comfortably becomes a big priority for pet families as well, beyond the threats caused by arthropods.
Catios present a great opportunity for felines to get fresh air and tromp around outside without being exposed to predators, risk being hit by cars or bringing back unwanted “gifts” like dead birds or mice. Cynthia Chomos, the founder/designer of Catio Spaces in Seattle, designs and builds custom enclosures for cat owners in the Seattle area and sells plans for do-it-yourselfers who want to build their own outdoor cat runs.
“It really enriches the lives of indoor cats,” she said. “They create spaces that are aesthetically pleasing and complement the home.”
All plans include a full list of the materials and tools consumers need to build their catio and detailed, step-by-step instructions. Based on the size, structures can be accessed through a pet door from the house or through a window insert.
For cat owners more interested in just a way station for their feline friends, the KatKabin could be an answer. Made by Brinsea Products in Titusville, Florida, the idea was to provide cats with a safe place to nap, shelter and relax at home or away, according to Liz Thomas, account coordinator for KatKabin.
“Their instinctual need to explore, roam and lounge in the open air can leave owners of indoor/outdoor cats with a dilemma in terms of providing them safe shelter,” Thomas said. “Elvira (product designer Elvira Brocher) developed the KatKabin to solve these problems by creating a special space in a garden, patio or balcony where a cat could be safe and secure and owners could have peace of mind.”
The KatKabin comes with a removable “KatFlap” door, washable “KatCushion” and a fleecy “Winter Warmer” to go inside the KatCushion, making it suitable for year-round use. Cat owners can even get an optional waterproof, low-energy EcoGlow Pet Warming Pad if they live in a particularly chilly climate and their feline friend develops such a fondness for the KatKabin that they would like to have it available even during the coldest winter days.
Thomas says cats take to the KatKabin quite readily, but he offers a few tips that can be passed on to owners to help felines get adjusted to their new vacation homes.
“The best way of getting your cat used to his KatKabin is to have it in the house at first, placed close to their regular sleeping place. Leave the KatFlap off initially—this makes it easier for them to get in and out,’’ she said. “If you sit near the KatKabin and make a big fuss of them when they come over to you they will get used to seeing it. Then you can gradually introduce them to the KatKabin by using treats. Put a few just inside the door, and they will hopefully feel the urge for a snack and put their head inside to retrieve the treat. Gradually move the snacks further inside and he will start to climb in and make himself at home. Take your time, don’t rush them.”
The Traveling Cat
With summer comes thoughts of travel—both near home and road trips farther away. For folks interested in taking their cats with them on a stroll about the neighborhood, what would work better than a stroller? After all, cats don’t hitch up to a leash for nice “walkies” down the street quite the way dogs would. Jeremy Buckley, director of sales for Gen7 Pets of Elverson, Pennsylvania, says his company has been making strollers for pets for about four years, taking its expertise in developing products for the juvenile market and extending it into the companion animal sphere to create safe, useful products.
“Pets feel more secure; the pet parents feel safe,” he said. “People who live in the city, they want to go to the park, want to go to a flea market or a fair. Pets are more accepted in malls and restaurants; this gives them all those opportunities.”
A stroller also makes it easier to get out and about if either the owner or the pet has limited capabilities, he explained.
“It’s easier also for older people who might want to take a pet out, or for animals who are older or who have had medical procedures,” he said.
His company makes a full line of pet strollers capable of holding up to 50 pounds of pets, including a jogging model. Buckley says he understands how retailers often deal with limited space but that strollers can be a success if stores keep a sample model on hand for customers to be able to take on a test drive.
“Sales are exponentially higher if customers can see the benefits as opposed to just seeing strollers in the box,” he said. “They can see it, touch it, push it around. It’s really important as people are taking their pets more and more places.”
Travel plans for owners and their cat might extend beyond where they can walk in their neighborhood. Sleepypod of Pasadena, California, makes the Sleepypod Atom, a carrier for small pets that works as a shoulder bag, that can strap into a car seat for protection and that can ride along on an airplane. Its bedding is machine washable, it has a trolley pocket so it can attach to luggage for rolling through the airport and it has pouches for storing essentials.
“Cats can be fussy travelers. It’s important to acclimate a cat to its home away from home, even when traveling for a short period of time,” said Michael Leung, Sleepypod co-founder and lead product designer. “With its Ultra Plush bedding and ability to convert into a pet den, Sleepypod Atom is a cozy napping spot at home. So when it’s time to go on a trip, a cat will feel less anxious because it will be traveling in its own familiar space.”
Leung points out that with its relative small size and level of utility, the Atom is a high value product for retailers.
“It’s a clever, multifunctional product,” he said.
Jennifer Kiehl, manager of Bentley’s Pet Stuff Southport in Chicago, says she sees sales of treats and “old classics” such as wands, outdoor toys and harnesses move more briskly at her store when it comes to summer cat products. Things made of harder, more durable plastics become more popular, and she said she reminds owners to be especially conscious of keeping cats well hydrated as temperatures climb. This means that cat fountains become more of an item.
“They love water that’s moving,” she said.