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Assisted Living for Seniors with Pets

Many seniors are unaware of the health benefits, both mental and physical, that a pet can provide. This includes seniors who are in an assisted living facility. Caring.com has created a free resource that provides comprehensive information on topics like the benefits and risks of pet ownership, things to consider before bringing a pet into a community, pet adoption, and State sponsored organizations that support both pets and their elderly owners.

Benefits and challenges of bringing a pet to an assisted living community

Dealing with Allergies

Being allergic doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a pet or that you must give up the one you already have. You can solve this problem by learning more about minimizing pet-related allergies and making some minor adjustments.

Allergic reactions are caused by allergens–substances usually invisible to the human eye. The allergens your pet carries are associated with its skin, hair follicles and saliva. Dander–a naturally-occurring combination of skin cells and saliva that the pet is continually shedding–is most often the cause of pet allergies. It is the protein of this dander that causes the reactions. Dander imbeds itself in the carpeting, furniture and draperies and remains in the environment to cause reactions. “Fel d 1”, the cat allergen, is the major cause of allergic reactions to cats. During a cat’s self-cleaning process, Fel d 1 protein in the saliva is deposited on the fur. It is also produced by sebaceous glands–the skin glands that secrete the oils that keep the skin and hair sleek and shiny. Male cats usually produce more allergen than females. Proteins in the urine of cats will also trigger allergic reactions.

Some animals seem more tolerable than others because they shed fewer allergens. Unfortunately, there are no non-allergic animals. It is also true that the length of hair does not alter the animal’s allergen level. Within any given breed, or even litter, you may find animals that you can tolerate better than others.

Allergies are usually cumulative. Since the allergic person is sensitive to more than one thing, it is the Total Allergen Level that causes a reaction. Whether or not a person has symptoms depends on how many allergens are in the environment at the same time. An individual who is allergic to animals may exhibit no noticeable symptoms when the total exposure is below his allergy threshold level. The trouble begins when there are enough allergens in the environment to exceed this level. The goal is to minimize exposure to airborne allergens that exceed tolerance thresholds and trigger attacks.

No more cats sleeping on the bed.

Sorry, this is a small price to pay for allergy relief. If you get your symptoms under control by all means invite them back, but give yourself a break while you are trying to abate your symptoms.

Keep them out of the bedroom altogether.

Close the bedroom door to try and keep the cat allergen down in the bedroom. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary from allergens. So tempt your cats to sleep elsewhere during the day.

Wash all bedding in 140-degree hot water at least twice monthly.

This eliminates both dust mite and cat allergen (because we know some of you will still let them sneak up on the bed every now and then).

Use HEPA air filters in rooms where your cats frequent.

Since cat allergen is so difficult to remove, a good HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) air purifier is essential for cleaning the air in your home. HEPA air purifiers do require continued filter replacement, but when push comes to shove and you are in need of allergy relief, a good HEPA filter will do it for you.

Vacuum up cat allergen with a high grade HEPA vacuum cleaner twice weekly.

Vacuum walls, carpet, flooring, chairs, and furniture…everywhere. Use the hand tools on the vacuum. Cat allergen particles are very small and invasive so you really have to do a thorough job. Good hand tools on your vacuum cleaner are the answer here. Also, installing a central vacuum will help pick up the rest.

Use a vapor steam cleaner to clean your home.

In addition to vacuuming, vapor steam cleaners are now proven by research to be extremely helpful in killing off the cat proteins/dander, which are embedded in your carpets and upholstery. Steam cleaners provide a chemical-free way of cleaning and killing dust mites, bacteria, mold spores and cat allergen.

Wash your hands

Wash immediately after petting your cat and do not rub your eyes. Rubbing your eyes can result in itchy eyes for hours. Use a strong anti-bacterial soap to avoid this problem.

Clean your cat.

Allerpet, a well-known brand of liquid that reduces cat allergen in the air, can be applied to your cats’ coat and is available from your local veterinarian. Alternatively, you can get a micro fiber cloth and just damp rub down the cats’ coats to rid it of visible dander.

Confine your cats to one area of the house.

I know this will be difficult for some people but this at least controls the cat allergens to a separate place where you can concentrate your air purifier and cleaning efforts.

Try an allergy reducing cat food.

Purina makes a cat food designed to reduce the Fel d 1 allergen in a cat’s saliva. You can read more about it on the Purina website.

Veterinary Care Help

One of the first steps in coping with the costs associated with an ill or injured pet can be to ask your current vet or animal hospital if they have payment plans available. If this is not an option, the following organizations may be able to help. Because Cat Guardians is not affiliated with any of these organizations, you will need to contact the organization directly for information on their programs and fees.


Anderson Animal Shelter
Low-cost vaccine clinic
847-697-2880, ext. 3.

DuPage County Animal Care and Control
Services available for DuPage County residents

NAWS Program
General Veterinary Services

Animal Care League
Microchipping and Vaccinations

Help for people who are physically or mentally ill, and/or senior citizens


PetcoLuv My Pet Program
Both Cat and Dog Vaccine Packages Available

Banfield Program
Optimum Wellness Programs

For life threatening emergencies only

AAHA Helping Pets Fund
Emergency and non-elective veterinary care

Angels 4 Animals
Mitigate veterinary treatment

Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance
Emergencies Only

The Pet Fund
(916) 443-6007

Temporary Foster Help

Thousands of people each year find themselves in a position where they are no longer able to provide shelter for themselves, much less for their pets. Many owners don’t want to surrender their pets but find little choice. In order to help people keep their pets, the following organizations provide temporary short-term and/or long-term foster care so that your animals can be cared for while you’re getting back on your feet. Please note, Cat Guardians is in no way affiliated with any of the following organizations, so you will need to contact them directly for information on their programs and their policies.

Anti-Cruelty Society SAFE Program
312-644-8338 ext 313

Helping individuals and families in crisis, the SAFE Program (Short-term Accommodations for Emergencies) is an effort to protect and shelter people and their pets.


PAWS Chicago Safe-Haven Program:
Dedicated network of foster homes, providing temporary homes for pets of families in crisis.

PAWS Chicago Emergency Admissions:
Prioritized admission into their adoption program for those who do not see a way to keep their pet

Naperville Area Humane Society Safe Pets Program
Specializes in helping victims of domestic violence

Blessed Bonds – Naperville
(708) 710-2493
Blessed Bonds is primarily a crisis foster care program, but they are also trying to expand their services to act as a general resource for pet owners in crisis.

MilitaryPets Foster Project
(843) 249-5262
A Nationwide network of foster homes for the dogs, cats, birds, horses and all other pets for all the Military personnel ONLY.

Stray and Feral Help (old version)

Every day, people across the country are providing care to feral cats — one that is not socialized to humans. They’re conducting Trap-Neuter-Return, the successful trapping, sterilizing, vaccinating, and returning feral cats so they can live out normal lives in the wild.  Feral cats’ needs are not met by the current animal control and shelter system, because these animals are considered un-adoptable. The following local organizations can help you with the ferals in your community through the Trap-Neuter-Release programs they have. Please note, Cat Guardians is in no way affiliated with any of the following organizations, so you will need to contact them directly for information on their programs and their policies.

Trap-Neuter-Release Organizations

Maywood — 708-829-6013

Feral Feline Project
Wheeling — 847-800-0095

Downers Grove — 630-375-7017

Triple R Pets
Western Springs — Phone 708-738-1438

Channahon — 815-773-4340

Fixin’ Feral Felines
DeKalb — 815-751-8227

Feral Fixers
Lombard — 630-881-3977

Spay and Stay
Grayslake — 847-289-4557

Chicagoland Stray Cat Coalition
Chicago — 773-517-5199

Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Clinics

Treehouse Feral Friends Program
Chicago — 773-784-5488 ext. 234

PAWS Chicago
Chicago — 773-521-7729

Anti-Cruelty Society
Chicago — 312-644-8338

Chicago Animal Care and Control
Chicago — 773-747-1406

Animal Welfare League
Chicago Ridge — 708-636-8586

Anderson Animal Shelter
South Elgin — 847-697-2880 EXT 28

Animal Care League
Oak Park — 708-848-8155

P.A.W.S. (People’s Animal Welfare Society)
Tinley Park — 815-464-7298

South Suburban Humane Society
Chicago Heights — 708-755-7387

River Wood Pet Clinic
Lincolnshire – 847-634-0022

Lake County Animal Control
Mundelein — 847-377-8029

NAWS (National Animal Welfare Society)
Mokena — (708) 478-5102

Low Cost Spay/Neuter

In an average year, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized due to pet over-population. In these tough economic times, pet owners want to be responsible, but often are unable to afford the cost of spay and neuter surgeries.

DuPage County provides links to low cost spay/neuter services in our area. DuPage County residents who receive LINK and/or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits may also be eligible for a voucher to help pay for these services. More information is available on their website here.

In addition, the following organizations may provide low-cost spay and neuter options. Please note, Cat Guardians is in no way affiliated with any of the following organizations, so you will need to contact them directly for information on their programs and their fees.

Aha! Alliance For Humane Action
P.O. Box 267 — Lake Villa, IL 60046
847-960-8689 ext. 1

Animal Welfare League
10305 Southwest Highway — Chicago Ridge, IL 60415

Animal Care League
1013 Garfield St. — Oak Park, IL 60304

Anti-Cruelty Society
157 W. Grand — Chicago, IL 60654
312-644-8338 ext. 347

Better Pets Clinic
1319 11th Street — Moline, IL 61265

Chicago Animal Care and Control
2741 S. Western Ave. — Chicago, IL 60608

DuPage County Animal Care and Control
120 N. County Farm Rd. — 630-407-2800
Wheaton, IL 60187

Fox Valley Animal Welfare League
11 John Street
North Aurora, Illinois 60542

NAWS Animal Clinic
10080 W. 191st St. — Mokena, IL 60448

Paw Pals
P.O. Box 568 — Quincy, IL 62306

PAWS Chicago
3516 W. 26th St. — Chicago, IL 60623
773-521-7729 SPAY

PAWS Humane Society
P.O.Box 7722 — Rockford, IL 61126

Quincy Humane Society
1705 N. 36th St. — Quincy, IL 62305

South Suburban Humane Society
18349 S. Halsted — Glenwood, IL 60425

Spay Illinois
Hotline: 877-475-7729

Tree House Humane Society
1629 N. Ashland Ave. — Chicago, IL 60622

Winnebago County Animal Services
4517 N. Main Street — Rockford, IL 61103

Finding Food and Supplies

In these tough economic times, affording to keep your pet is difficult. Here at Cat Guardians, Inc, we want to help you help your pet! Below is a list of organizations that have Pet Food at their food banks. Please note, Cat Guardians is in no way affiliated with any of the following organizations, so you will need to contact them directly for information on their programs.

Meals on Wheels
1919 S. Highland, Building A, Suite 210
Lombard, IL 60148

York Township
1502 S. Meyers Road
Lombard, IL 60148

First United Methodist Church of Lombard
155 S. Main Street
Lombard, IL 60148

Christian Church of Villa Park
1336 S. Villa Ave
Villa Park, IL 60181

Addison Township
50 E. Oak
Addison, IL 60101

Addison FISH
193 Michael Lane
Addison, IL 60101

Milton Township
1492 N. Main St
Wheaton, IL 60187

Peoples Resource Center
201 S. Naperville Road
Wheaton, IL 60187

Calvary Church
9S200 State Route 59
Naperville, IL 60564

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
8404 S. Cass Ave.
Darien, IL 60561

Lisle Township
4711 Indiana Avenue
Lisle, IL 60532

B.C. Dog Training Club
920 Turret Court Ct
Mundelein, IL 60060

PAWS Chicago
3516 W. 26th St
Chicago, IL 60623

The Animal Welfare League
6224 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637

Treehouse Humane Society
1212 W. Carmen Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

Litter Box Issues

Most of us know that cats are finicky eaters, but they can also be pretty picky when it comes to the other end of the digestive process—making use of a litter box.  Medical issues are the number one reason cats avoid using their litter box, so make sure to rule out medical issues right away if you run into box avoidance.  Otherwise, follow the below litter box tips, and you’ll have a happy kitty.

Location, Location, Location

While putting a cat box in an out-of-the-way spot to minimize odor and prevent cat litter from being tracked throughout the house may work for you, it may not be the best location for your cat.  Loud appliances, cold floors, and other deterrents could give your kitty reason to not use the box.  So you may have to compromise. The litter box should be kept in a spot that affords your cat some privacy yet is also conveniently located. If you place the litter box in a closet or a bathroom, be sure the door is wedged open from both sides to prevent her from being trapped inside or locked out.

Pick of the Litter

Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained litters, presumably because they have a softer feel. The new scoopable (clumping) litters usually have finer grains than the typical clay litter and are very popular. But high-quality, dust-free, clay litters are relatively small-grained and may be perfectly acceptable to your cat.  Many cats are put off by the odor of scented or deodorant litters. For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box.  A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat, and odors shouldn’t really be a problem if you keep the litter box clean.

What’s the Magic Number?

You should have at least as many litter boxes as you have cats. That way, none of them will ever be prevented from eliminating in the litter box because it’s already occupied.  You might also consider placing litter boxes in several locations around the house, so that no one cat can prevent the other cats from getting access. We also recommend that you place at least one litter box on each level of your house.  It’s not possible to designate a personal litter box for each cat in your household, as cats may use any litter box that’s available, and that means a cat may occasionally refuse to use a litter box after another cat has used it. In this case, all of the litter boxes will need to be kept extremely clean and additional boxes may be needed.

Covered Litter Boxes

Some people prefer to provide their cats with a covered litter box, but doing so may introduce some problems.  You may forget to clean the litter box as frequently as you should because the dirty litter is “out of sight, out of mind.  A covered litter box traps odors inside, so it will need to be cleaned more often than an open one.  A covered litter box may not allow a large cat sufficient room to turn around, scratch, dig, or position herself in the way she wants.  A covered litter box may make it easier for another cat to lay in wait and ambush the user as she exits the box; on the other hand, a covered litter box may feel more private, and timid cats may prefer it.

Keeping It Clean

To meet the needs of the most discriminating cat, feces should be scooped out of the litter box daily. How often you actually change (replace) the litter depends on the number of cats you have, the number of litter boxes, and the type of litter you use. Twice a week is a general guideline for clay litter, but depending on the circumstances, you may need to replace it every other day or only once a week. If you clean the litter box daily, scoopable litter may only need to be changed every two to three weeks. If you notice an odor or if much of the litter is wet or clumped, it’s time for a change. Don’t use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products when washing the litter box, as doing so may cause your cat to avoid the box. Some cleaning products are toxic to cats. Washing with soap and water should be sufficient.

Liner Notes

Some cats don’t mind having a plastic liner in the litter box, while others do. Again, you may want to experiment to see if your cat is bothered by a liner in the box. If you do use a liner, make sure it’s anchored in place, so it can’t easily catch your cat’s claws or be pulled out of place.

Depth of Litter

Most cats won’t use litter that’s more than about two inches deep. In fact, some long-haired cats actually prefer less litter and a smooth, slick surface, such as the bottom of the litter box.

Destructive Scratching

Although some people think a cat’s scratching behavior is a reflection of her distaste for a couch’s upholstery, a not-so-subtle hint to open the drapes, or a poorly conceived Zorro impersonation, the fact is that cats scratch objects in their environment for many perfectly normal reasons.  Don’t remove the unappealing coverings or odors from the inappropriate objects until your cat is consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent locations for several weeks, or even a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at once.

Why Do Cats Scratch?

Cats scratch for many reasons, including:

Because scratching is a normal behavior and one that cats are highly motivated to display, it’s unrealistic to try to prevent them from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to redirect the scratching onto acceptable objects.

Training Your Cat to Scratch Acceptable Objects

You must provide objects for scratching that are appealing, attractive, and convenient from your cat’s point of view. Start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching. The answers to the following questions will help you understand your cat’s scratching preferences:

Now, considering your cat’s demonstrated preferences, substitute similar objects for her to scratch (rope-wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard, or even a log). Place the acceptable object(s) near the inappropriate object(s) that she’s already using. Make sure the objects are stable and won’t fall over or move around when she uses them.

Cover the inappropriate objects with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up. Or you may give the objects an aversive odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, a muscle rub, or other safe yet unpleasant substances. Be careful with odors, though, because you don’t want the nearby acceptable objects to also smell unpleasant.

When your cat is consistently using the appropriate object, it can be moved very gradually (no more than three inches each day) to a location more suitable to you. It’s best, however, to keep the appropriate scratching objects as close to your cat’s preferred scratching locations as possible.

Should I Punish My Cat for Scratching?

NO! Punishment is effective only if you catch your cat in the act of scratching unacceptable objects and have provided her with acceptable scratching objects. Punishment after the fact won’t change the behavior, may cause her to be afraid of you or the environment, and may elicit defensive aggression. Used by itself, punishment won’t resolve scratching problems because it doesn’t teach your cat where to scratch instead. If you do catch your cat in the act of scratching inappropriate objects, punish her in a way that prevents her from associating the punishment with you.

Try making a loud noise (using a whistle, shaking a soda can filled with rocks, or slapping the wall) or using a water-filled squirt bottle. If you use other, more interactive techniques, she’ll learn to refrain from scratching in your presence but will continue to scratch when you’re not around.

Common Hazards

Many common household items can pose a threat to animal companions. Even some items specifically meant for pets could cause health problems. To protect your pet, simply use common sense and take the same precautions you would with a child. Although rodent poisons and insecticides are the most common sources of companion animal poisoning, the following list of less common but potentially toxic agents should be avoided if at all possible:


Antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that attracts animals but is deadly if consumed in even small quantities; one teaspoon can kill a seven-pound cat. The HSUS recommends pet owners use a safe antifreeze in their vehicles. Look for antifreeze that contains propylene glycol, which is safe for animals if ingested in small amounts. Ethylene glycol can also be found in common household products like snow globes, so be sure to keep these things out the reach of animals.

Lawn & Garden chemicals

Chemicals used on lawns and gardens, such as fertilizer and plant food, can be easily accessible and fatal to a pet allowed in the yard unsupervised, or brought inside on your shoes.


Chocolate is poisonous to dogs, cats, and ferrets.

De-icing salts

Many salts used to melt snow and ice are paw irritants that can be poisonous if licked off. Pet-safe de-icer is available.

Insect control products

Insecticides, such as those used in many over-the-counter flea and tick remedies, may be toxic to companion animals. Prescription flea and tick control products are much safer and more effective. Pet owners should never use any product without first consulting a veterinarian.

Human medications

Pain killers (including aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, anti-depressants, vitamins, and diet pills can all be toxic to animals. Keep medication containers and tubes of ointments and creams away from pets who could chew through them, and be vigilant about finding and disposing of any dropped pills. Never attempt to give human-oriented pain medications to your cats. These can cause renal failure, liver failure, and resulting extreme pain.


Leftovers such as chicken bones easily shatter and can choke a cat or dog. Other human foods to keep away from pets include onions and onion powder; alcoholic beverages; yeast dough; coffee grounds and beans; salt; macadamia nuts; tomato, potato, and rhubarb leaves and stems; avocados (toxic to birds, mice, rabbits, horses, cattle, and dairy goats); and anything with mold growing on it.

Poisonous household plants

Dangerous plants include azalea, geraniums, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), lilies, mistletoe, and philodendron, among others. Floral bouquets are very tempting to your feline friends, who might enjoy nibbling on flowers or pulling on leaves. The ASPCA maintains an excellent database of flowers both safe and toxic to cats, at http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants?plant_toxicity=non-toxic-to-cats. Be sure to consult this site to ensure that floral arrangements in your home are safe to your best friends, and keep any unsafe varieties out of reach.


String, yarn, rubber bands, wrapping bow, and even dental floss are easy to swallow and can cause intestinal blockages or strangulation.

Toys with removable parts

Squeaky toys or stuffed animals with plastic eyes, or any removable parts really, can pose a choking hazard to animals. Take the same precautions with pets as you would with a small child.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435

The Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a fee of $45 per case. If you call, you should be prepared to provide the following information: the name of the poison your animal was exposed to, the amount and how long ago; the species, breed, age, sex, and weight of your pet; and the symptoms the animal is displaying. You’ll also be asked to provide your name, address, phone number, and credit card information.