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Ants and SNAILS in Cat (and dog) Food Bowls

 
 
Seizan
 
Reply Fri 4 Jan, 2019 06:09 am
Hi Folks!

Some of you may recall that my wife and I have many cats, most of them rescued and most were considered “unadoptable” because they were already full-grown, etc. Some of our cats are outdoor cats, more are indoor.

For years now we had problems with insects and snails getting into the cat food bowls within a matter of minutes after putting the food out. Sometimes we have problems with ants indoors too.

With as many animals as we have, we don’t spray for insects because regardless of what it says about “harmless to pets” on some labels, I believe all poisons to be harmful to more than the intended critter...

I tried putting food bowls inside larger bowls or basins with some water to act like a moat. Bust. Either the cats slopped food into the water and fouled it, making it possible for the insects to cross over to richer territory (within the food bowl), or the wind would blow some grass or leaves that act like a bridge.

I sprinkled some salt around the bowls to keep the snails out. Temporary at best, until the wind blew it away or the rain washed it off the concrete. And salt is not good for the backyard soil just off the concrete.

Best solution I found for a while was to spray some WD40 on a cotton ball and wipe a thin film of it around the outer side of the bowl. It seemed to work fine, no ants and no snails. But WD40 doesn’t last long in the heat of sunshine, it evaporates. I also suspect it may not be safe for the cats if they were to lick the outer side of the bowl out of curiosity (some cats will try and taste anything).

A one-time buy of WD40 may not seem expensive, but one can really doesn’t last very long if it’s used almost every day. And then it starts to get a bit more costly, buying can after can...

So I found a better and longer-lasting solution, one that’s safe and quite inexpensive...

I use a cotton ball with some pure odorless mineral oil on it, and wipe a film of it around the outside of the food bowl as I did with WD40. But the mineral oil film lasts all day and longer if necessary. Ants hate it. Snails stay well away it. And the food stays untouched by insects other than the large furry type that meow. Mineral oil is safe for animals in small doses, but the cats don’t seem to notice it anyway (not on the outside of a bowl filled with great-smelling cat food!).

When placing the food bowl,I handle only the bottom of the bowl and the rim. I don't touch the mineral oil on the outer sides because I don't want to wipe it off leaving an open trail for the ants, and I don't want the bowl to slip out of my fingers...

Works indoors as well. On Okinawa we have these really tiny slow-moving black ants, about 1mm long, that creep in everywhere they find food. Once they get into the house and find a food source, they are really hard to get rid of. Now they seem to have disappeared since their food source is unreachable.

Mineral oil is really quite cheap. I buy a pint of it for less than $2, and I estimate from the amount I use per dish, it will last for a few seasons.

Baby oil is just scented mineral oil, but I advise against using it. The scent is for humans, and while may smell nice to us, it might be a really obnoxious odor to an animal with a sensitive nose. I think they wouldn’t want it on the outside of their food bowl...

Dog owners may find the same problem with their outdoor dishes. I think this may help.
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Jan, 2019 06:49 am
Good reading, good advice. Thank you.
0 Replies
 
chai2
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Jan, 2019 07:55 am
Yeah, that's a great idea.

Actually, the first thing I thought about the WD 40 was that it would create quite a stink. When I've sprayed it on door hinges, the odor lingered unpleasantly for a long time. Can't be pleasant for cats.

Mineral oil is pretty much odorless.

Plus, the cats can lick it if they want, with no ill effect.

Isn't it funny how sometimes you can come up with the most elegantly simple solution only after some false starts?

0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  2  
Reply Fri 4 Jan, 2019 03:52 pm
@Seizan,
Thank you for your kindness to the cats!!
0 Replies
 
Ragman
 
  2  
Reply Fri 4 Jan, 2019 05:36 pm
@Seizan,
Most likely doing that will ant-agonize them but doing so will occur at a snail's pace.
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jan, 2019 05:10 am
@Ragman,
Someone with an errant thumb has no sense of humor. Chill, forcrissakes.
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Jan, 2019 05:26 am
@Ragman,
Ouch...!

:-)
Ragman
 
  3  
Reply Sat 5 Jan, 2019 05:55 pm
@Seizan,
My bad. You were very earnest in your offering advice that was very helpful. My silly humor and puns probably weren’t a welcome addition. There’s a time and place for everything, I guess. Beside that, it wasn’t that funny.
Seizan
 
  2  
Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2019 01:29 am
@Ragman,
Aw, c'mon... I lightened up considerably since the last centur -- er, decad -- er, year or so...

I don't mind a light poke, and it wasn't a bad pun. Shows yer payin' attention, anyway...!

Now, if the CATS were offended, that might be different.

:-)

But SOMEone doesn't like puns. That much is furr-ly obvious...
Ragman
 
  3  
Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2019 01:21 pm
@Seizan,
Haha! In case I haven’t expressed it before, I admire you and your significant other greatly for your kindness and humane-ness For your work and diligence with feline rescue.

May you and your furry ones have a joyous and bug-free new year.
Seizan
 
  2  
Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2019 10:07 pm
@Ragman,
Happy Mew Year to you and yours, too...!
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2019 01:36 am
UPDATE...

One bowl outside is so clean lately that I wash it clean outdoors without disturbing the mineral oil film, and refill it with either canned or dry food. This has been for the past week. Ants scurry all around the bowl on the ground but not one has made it inside the food.

As I recall (I could be wrong here), ants produce formic acid to help liquefy harder food so they can take it in and deposit it for the Queen's meals, or store it for the winter. Formic acid gives off a somewhat lemony odor which spoils the food scent for animals. This explains why cats and dogs may not eat food that has been invaded even slightly by ants, who will leave their formic acid trails around the food to lead other workers to a food source, and keep other animals from eating it (and them).

In fact, the Latin word for ant is formica... The acid is named after the insect.

Just wanted to let you know that the mineral oil film has survived the test of at least the cool season on Okinawa. Summertime will be the real test. I'll keep you informed...
roger
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2019 02:29 am
@Seizan,
This is useful information, especially if I remember it till summer, if/when it arrives
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2019 06:16 am
The cats used to leave some food in the bowls because the ants and/or snails had been in the food and left their markers/slime trails... Now the cats are able to eat the whole portion and lick the food bowls clean...!
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 May, 2019 05:56 pm
New Update:

Late spring is on us and it's getting rather warm here. A different breed of garden snails makes their appearance around this time of year and stay until the weather cools. Some of these don't seem to mind the mineral oil much, though they do stay away from salt (I seem to recall that salt is a poison to snails and garden slugs).

I tried mixing mineral oil and salt to make a sort of paste to pat around the food dish, but nothing mixes well with mineral oil, the salt goes on more in clumps than a coating, and the snails just find their way around the clumps to the food.

We have really persistent snails on Okinawa...

And so -- I coat the outside of the food bowl with a nice film of mineral oil as usual, and then use the salt shaker to sprinkle salt over the entire oiled surface. This makes for a nice uniform salt coating, and works like a charm. Snails all around on the concrete especially after the rain, but not one touches the food dishes.

Now all I have to do is find a way to keep the snails off our concrete so I don't step on them when feeding the cats... I really hate the sound and feel of crunching the poor things underfoot. Rather they just weren't there.
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  2  
Reply Wed 19 Jun, 2019 10:41 pm
Hi Folks... an update.

On Okinawa, summer is looming around the corner. This of course brings out a few different species of snails and ants, and calls for some variation in the oil and salt coating the outside of the cat food dishes.

I found over the past month or so that the salt sprinkling over the mineral oil coating works fine while the weather is dry. But in the increasingly humid and rainy weather (it is currently the rainy season here), the salt crystals absorb moisture, form droplets, and trickle off the side of the food dish.

The oil remains and the ants leave the food alone, but the garden snails zoom right up and over the oil film and into the food dishes. Yuck.

A few days ago I thought of mixing something non-poisonous but really unpalatable into the oil film when I saw on the kitchen counter a small bottle of pepper oil. The label is in kanji but it has a picture of what looks like tiny red-hot peppers or jalapenos, and smells positively hot-spicy-caustic. My wife likes it on just about everything. I think it might burn holes in the marble floor tiles if spilled.

I had already coated the outside of the food bowl as usual, so I tapped just 2 or 3 drops of red pepper oil on the cotton ball I used for the mineral oil. It mixed with the mineral oil well, spreading quite nicely and uniformly all around the bowl's exterior.

I put the bowl of cat food down outside the back door in enemy snail territory. The rain had slacked off between showers and the snails were all over the concrete.

2 days have gone by and so far, no snails or ants even on the outside of the food bowls. Seems they dislike spicy food as much as I, or more.

The red pepper / mineral oil mix stays despite the high humidity and occasional splash of rain when the wind blows from the north.

There is a scent of spicy oil, but the cats don't seem to mind it. They can now eat all of their canned food sans escargot.

So the magic mixture, as it stands now, is a cotton ball wet with mineral oil plus 2 or 3 drops of red pepper oil. Maybe red Tabasco sauce will do the trick just as well (I think it's oil-based too).

Hopefully this does not lead the the evolution of garden snails that enjoy spicy foods...
0 Replies
 
Seizan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 23 Jun, 2019 10:37 pm
More developments...

Well, pepper oil seems to lose it's punch after about 2 days. Mineral oil seems to stay forever and the ants don't bother the food bowls anymore, but now we have "elephant snails" -- large snails with somewhat elongated brown shells that were intentionally imported from Madagascar (I think) long ago, to combat a plant parasite that they seem to love to eat.

As with most creatures that are imported with good intent, they got out of hand, became just another pest, and now infest the island.

Would an infestation of pests be an "inpestation"...?

Ha ha.

Anyway, I just read on a gardening site that a simple coil of copper wire, or encircling the area with copper tape, repels just about all snails. This is apparently because when a snail's slime comes into contact with anything copper, it produces a slight electric charge that they intensely dislike.

So I guess I'm off to the hardware shop this week to check out some copper tape or wire as a next step.

If we have so much trouble just keeping snails out of the cat food, what the heck will we do when the aliens land...?

;-)

The drama continues...
roger
 
  1  
Reply Sun 23 Jun, 2019 11:50 pm
@Seizan,
I begin to believe you have committed yourself to a war which cannot be won. Good information on the ants, though. Snails are pretty rare in my area.
0 Replies
 
 

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