Training a feral rescue to use a litter box

Q: I have four indoor cats, all of which were feral rescues. One of the cats poops regularly outside the litter box, either right next to the box or somewhere in the same room. Neither of the boxes is in a high-traffic area, and I have had the cat checked out medically. I have two litter boxes that are cleaned two times a day. I also have recently used the Feliway wall plug-in to help with her anxiety. I am all out of ideas. Can you help? --Mary Ellen Romano, Medford

A: I would advise you to put another litter box right next to the one she urinates in and, rather than putting litter in it, just put a flat sheet of newspaper or a wee-wee pad on the bottom. Hopefully she will poop on the pad inside the litter box rather than on the floor. When this becomes second nature to her, you can gradually add some litter to this box until she is actually pooping in it.

Q: We have several parrots, and when our umbrella cockatoo lays eggs, we feel she gets low in calcium. The powdered calcium looks like it may be a good way to keep her calcium levels up. She eats cuttlebones, as many as five in a day, and we were looking for something better. What product would you recommend? --Rex Campbell, Silver Star, Mont.

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A: A number of powdered calcium supplements are out there for both birds and reptiles, but they are meant as dietary supplements for otherwise healthy pets. If your cockatoo is laying eggs, then most likely she is low in calcium, but it really is your vet's job to figure this out and treat it with a liquid calcium supplement that you can give her directly in her mouth or add to her water. These liquid supplements are concentrated so the bird can absorb them very quickly.

Cuttlebones are the dried-out skeletons of the cuttlefish -- a type of squid. There is nothing at all wrong with her chewing them up, but they do not contain enough absorbable calcium for a large bird like a cockatoo that is laying eggs.

Q: I just read an article that birds can be killed by Gram-negative bacteria that can be transmitted by other mammals, including humans.

My sun conure likes to stick his beak in my mouth and poke around. Should I discourage this? Can he get Gram-negative bacteria by poking around my mouth?

Also, my two cats drink out of one metal water bowl and three other ordinary soup dishes. I change the water once a day. Can the bacteria grow rapidly in either or both of these types of bowls? Should I use the stainless-steel bowls exclusively? Do you have any thoughts on pet fountains? --Mike Scaturro, Garden City South

A: When I was in Central America, I saw parrot dealers feed baby parrots by chewing up bananas and corn and then allowing the baby birds to eat it from their mouths. Those baby birds were as fat and healthy as they could be. However, common sense will say that such a practice cannot be recommended as beneficial to the bird or the human.

I personally am a germaphobe and do not do this with any of my pets. I can think of better and more productive ways to spend quality time with a bird. Plus, my vet does not recommend this practice at all.

For water for my pets, I prefer ceramic or stainless- steel dishes that I wash out with soap and water once or twice a day. I always think it important that pets' drinking vessels be as clean as our own. Those drinking fountains work great for persuading cats to drink, and they do have little carbon filters in them, but the filters will not kill any bacteria that grows in the water.

In a perfect world, the filter should be taken apart and cleaned daily, just as you would clean a water dish.