Pet Connection

Cats, Cats, Cats

What makes your tabby tick? Three new books answer your questions about cats

We at Pet Connection have always suspected that cats are aliens who have enslaved us to do their furry bidding. They train us to feed them, scoop their litter boxes and be their sidekicks -- when they want us to be.

Cats are the most popular pets in the United States, with between 74 and 96 million of them sharing our homes. More than half a billion have colonized the world. And yet, they are still alien to many people. Fortunately, three authors have taken on the challenge of revealing the secrets of cats in all their infinite variety.

Abigail Tucker grew up with cats, but it wasn't until she became a mother herself that the science writer began to explore the lure of the cat, struck by her daughters' absorption with them. With her cat Cheetoh as muse, she explores feline natural history, behavior and relationships with humans in her book "The Lion in the Living Room."

There are lots of theories about why cats and people joined forces. Usually, it's related to cats protecting food from vermin. But when cats came indoors as companions, it was a real game-changer. Tucker's exploration of the results of that move, in the chapter "Pandora's Litter Box," is both funny and fascinating. Other chapters address wild cats, feline evolution, the war between cats and birders, feline genetics, exotic cat breeds and more.

Whereas Tucker gives an overarching view of the little hypercarnivores, cat expert Ramona Marek has written a guide to living with them successfully. Marek says the biggest mistake people make with cats is believing the myth that they are self-sufficient, aloof and solitary.

"This notion leads to cats being thought of as 'disposable' or able to survive on their own," she says. "Cats are domesticated companion animals who depend on us for food, social interaction and health care. We need to uphold our end of the domestication process."

In "Cats for the GENIUS," Marek offers readers the opportunity to "create a paw-sitive relationship with your cat from the start!" With advice on everything from A (acquisition) to V (vocalizations), she educates new owners about cat habits and needs they might never have considered. For instance, she says people are often surprised to learn that cats prefer to have food and water in different areas. They don't know that cats are true carnivores with specific nutritional requirements. "Catification hacks" help them set up their homes in ways cats will like.

"By recognizing normal feline behavior, we can accommodate the home environment to fit their needs, which helps build a stronger, positive human-animal bond, keeping more cats in homes and out of shelters," she says.

For a more specialized take on feline foibles, award-winning author Dusty Rainbolt talks to veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists and cat consultants about the No. 1 -- and No. 2 -- cat behavior problem: inappropriate elimination. In other words, not using the litter box.

In "Cat Scene Investigator: Solve Your Cat's Litter Box Mystery," Rainbolt takes readers through the detective work necessary to figure out which cat is the culprit in a multipet home, why he's breaking cat law by peeing or pooping outside the box and how to send him to rehab instead of death row. Often, he's not misbehaving at all, but reacting to a treatable medical problem or a conflict with a person or other pet. Rainbolt's tips address how to identify and resolve issues and, best of all, how to get rid of the stain and stink.

"Litter box behavior is complicated," Rainbolt says. "It's like a mile-long mathematical equation. There are a lot of potential variables. But once you figure out what the variables are, you can solve the problem."

Q&A

Don't brush off

pet dental care

Q: I have a greyhound, and I know from past experience that they get a lot of tartar buildup. What's the best way to care for her teeth? -- via Facebook

A: You're not alone. Greyhounds, cavalier King Charles spaniels and other toy breeds, and many other dogs have a strong tendency toward periodontal disease. By the time they are 2 to 3 years old, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some level of dental disease, and it only gets worse throughout life if they don't get good home care and regular professional cleanings. Nasty breath that could knock a horse over isn't normal; here are some things you can do to prevent it and keep your dog's mouth healthy.

I say this all the time: Brush your dog's teeth every day. If you're not sure how, ask your veterinarian for a demo. Using a soft-bristled brush or even just some gauze held at a 45-degree angle to the tooth, clean the teeth with a circular motion. Use flavored pet toothpaste to improve your greyhound's acceptance of the process. Avoid using toothpaste made for people; it contains ingredients that can upset your dog's stomach, since she swallows instead of spits.

If your dog is reluctant, do one tooth, praise her and give a treat. Come back later and do another one, followed by praise and a treat. A dental chew or treat serves double duty by rewarding your dog and working to remove plaque or prevent it from developing into tartar. Eventually, your dog should come to accept having all of her teeth brushed at once.

Some dogs are not good candidates for teeth brushing. If that's the case with your dog, ask your veterinarian about dental chews, sealants and other products that may help prevent plaque and tartar buildup. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Canine warmups

prevent injury

-- Are you warming up your dog before you take him for a walk or run, or head into the agility ring or a nose-work trial? You might be making a mistake if you're not, especially if your dog has been crated for any length of time beforehand. Before asking your dog to do something that requires enthusiasm and muscular effort, Cindy Otto, DVM, a veterinary sports medicine expert, recommends first having him do some sits and downs, active stretches and a little trotting around, followed by a good rubdown to get the blood flowing.

-- All cats are black and all cats are tabbies, says feline expert Joan Miller. What the heck does that mean? Turns out that whether you see the tabby pattern depends on whether the cat carries the agouti (ticked) gene or the non-agouti gene. A solid-colored cat with a non-agouti gene will sometimes show the tabby pattern at birth or in sunlight. If you look at a black cat in sunlight, you can often see the underlying stripes well enough to tell if he's a mackerel tabby or a classic tabby. Cats who are ticked tabbies don't show any stripes.

-- The "Birdie Bus" in Phoenix takes parrots for a ride -- to a new home. It's a mobile adoption unit that takes birds in need of a home around town so that potential adopters can meet them. "A lot of people don't realize there is such a thing as bird rescue," says Ginger Duplisse, president of Ginger's Parrot Rescue in Gilbert, Arizona. Riding in the bus is also an enriching experience for the birds, giving them a chance to socialize and to interact with humans. Besides adopters, the organization welcomes volunteers and donations. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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