Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

CAT FACTS

Sure, you love your cat, but how much do you know about our favorite pets? Test yourself with a short quiz to see if you're a true feline fancier. The answers are at the end.

1. When used to describe a cat's behavior, "bunting" is when a cat:

(a) Uses urine to mark a doorway

(b) "Chatters" at the sight of a bird

(c) Bumps and rubs his head to leave a scent mark

(d) Bats around his prey

2. Which of these is not a reason why cats claw things?

(a) To keep claws sharp and help remove worn claw sheathes

(b) To leave scent on an object

(c) To provide muscles with a good stretch

(d) To be spiteful

3. A cat who's getting agitated to the point of lashing out while being petted will often have a tail that's:

(a) Twitching and flipping at the tip

(b) Wagging gently from the base

(c) Perfectly still

(d) Carried straight up

4. Cats purr when they're:

(a) Content

(b) Frightened

(c) Injured

(d) All of the above

5. Most cats have how many whiskers?

(a) 18

(b) 24

(c) 32

(d) 56

6. Which of the following places are not good for petting, in the opinion of most cats?

(a) Tummy

(b) Underside of chin

(c) Base of tail

(d) Side of face

7. The average cat weighs:

(a) Between 12 and 15 pounds

(b) Between 8 and 10 pounds

(c) More than 15 pounds

(d) Between 6 and 8 pounds

8. Cats start their grooming routine by:

(a) Licking their tail tips

(b) Licking their flanks

(c) Licking their lips

(d) Licking their paws

9. "High-rise" syndrome refers to:

(a) A cat's preference for perching on tall objects

(b) The ability of cats to live happily in upper-floor apartments

(c) The survival rate of cats who fall from high places

(d) A cat's enjoyment of a good view

10. The normal body temperature of a cat is:

(a) 97 degrees

(b) Between 100 and 102.5 degrees

(c) 99 degrees

(d) 104 degrees

ANSWERS

1. (c) Every cat lover is familiar with "bunting," which is what a cat does when he bumps and rubs on something, such as your leg or hand.

2. (d) Contrary to common belief, cats don't destroy your sofa for spite, but because clawing is natural feline behavior.

3. (a) You may avoid a nasty bite by watching your cat's tail. When the tip starts to flip, end the petting session.

4. (d) Although most purring is a sign of contentment, cats have also been known to purr in stressful or painful situations.

5. (b) In most cats, the 24 whiskers are neatly divided into four rows on each side of the face. Each whisker -- they're technically called "vibrissae" -- is imbedded deeper than normal hairs to enhance its sensory input.

6. (a) Many cats become agitated if petted on the tummy, and they may claw or bite. Save tummy rubs for your dog!

7. (b) While most average-weight cats will come in between 8 pounds and 10 pounds, some cat breeds will normally be much heavier. A healthy cat should have a little padding over the ribs -- but not too much.

8. (c) A cat will generally groom himself in the same sequence, starting by licking his lips, then his paws, then rubbing the paws over his head. The tail is generally last to get cleaned.

9. (c) Cats can right themselves in midair and brace for impact if they have time, which is why cats have a better chance of surviving a fall from a few floors up than from a balcony closer to the ground. Above a certain height, however, no cat can survive the fall.

10. (b) Temperatures below 99 degrees or above 103 degrees are reason to worry -- and to call your veterinarian.

How'd you do? If you got them all right, you really know your cats. If you got fewer than half right, admit it: You're a dog person! If so, don't worry, because next week there'll be a quiz for you.

Q&A

Guessing no good when pets are sick

Q: My husband has had cats for years. He is a cat rescuer. We now have four cats, and they've had trouble recently with diarrhea. He gave them worming medicine two times for this.

We can't afford to take them to a veterinarian, as we are on a fixed income and have health problems ourselves. Should we give them more doses of worm medicine or just wait? My son had one of the cats, and he said the cat had roundworms when he had it. I think that cat spread it to our cats. -- J.R., via e-mail

A: Please don't give your cats any more medication until you know what's causing the diarrhea. Your son's guess at what's causing the problem isn't any better than yours is. And you have no way of knowing the cause of the intestinal upset without at least one of these animals seeing a veterinarian.

Without a proper diagnosis, you cannot know your proper treatment options. In such cases, over-the-counter or home remedies are a waste of time and money, and may even be harmful.

I realize that veterinarian expenses can strain the budget, but I also believe that making sure sick pets get the help they need is the responsibility of everyone who adopts an animal. Contact your local humane society or find a cat-rescue group to see if someone can steer you toward a veterinarian who will work with you when it comes to your budget and your cats' needs.

Much as your husband loves cats and wants to rescue them, it would be better if, when some of your current pets pass on, you limit the number of cats to one or two. That will help you afford the occasional trip to the veterinarian that all pets require.

"Rescuing" cats you can't care for does no favor to the animals involved. Better you should provide good care to one pet than poor care to four of them.

Missing the box

Q: My oldest cat, Company, is feral, and she is now about 12 years old. This past year, she has begun to miss the litter box. I have taken her to the veterinarian, which is an extremely hard thing to do because I am the only one whose handling she tolerates. She doesn't have an infection.

After reading your "Cats for Dummies" book, I thought I would try isolating her in the bathroom to see if she will start using the litter box. Am I supposed to be cleaning up after her while she is in isolation? -- A.B., via e-mail

A: Assuming your veterinarian did assure you of your cat's complete good health, then yes, retraining is definitely worth trying. The idea behind putting a cat in a small area such as a bathroom, with the rugs removed, is that potty options are pretty much limited to the box. Because some cats develop negative associations with their boxes, this technique may help them to get back on track.

As for cleaning up after your cat: Yes, you must. A scrupulously clean box is essential, and any outside-the-box mistakes must also be cleaned promptly and thoroughly.

If your cat still will not use the box, talk to your veterinarian again. Even though an infection was ruled out, I'd suspect some other medical issue is going on with your cat. If that's not the case, ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who can develop a program for you to follow in re-training your cat and can prescribe medications that will ease your cat through the transition back to good behavior.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

PET Rx

Paralysis always a pet emergency

The inability to walk can develop suddenly, even without a history of injury. Such paralysis may be the result of a ruptured spinal disc, especially in low-slung dog breeds such as the dachshund. Paralysis can also be associated with an injury, such as a fall or vehicle accident. When paralysis is associated with trauma, fractures or instability of the spine may be the cause.

Paralysis should be considered a life-threatening emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Prepare to transport your pet, using an ironing board or piece of plywood as a stretcher, keeping the animal as immobile as possible. Covering the pet with a blanket may help to keep him calm.

Don't encourage or allow your pet to move around, and do not provide any medication unless specifically instructed to by the veterinarian. Stay calm, and get your pet veterinary assistance immediately, either at your regular veterinary hospital or an emergency clinic.

Never trust a frightened, injured animal not to bite. A soft muzzle should be kept on hand for emergencies, or one can be fashioned out of gauze or even pantyhose in a pinch.

(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)

PET Buy

Keeping kitty off the keys

Relatively quiet and elegantly beautiful, the cat has been the preferred pet of many a writer or computer programmer. But anyone who has a cat and a computer -- which is most anyone these days -- knows that cats have a tendency to walk across keyboards.

The result? Deleted work, programs launched and even computer shutdowns. If we didn't know better, we'd swear our cats were doing it on purpose.

A couple of companies have come up with remedies. Perhaps the most straightforward solution is a protective cover, such as the Kittywalk keyboard cover and "mouse house" ($20) available from Cat Connection (www.catconnection.com, 866-386-MEOW).

A more high-tech solution is PawSense ($20), available from BitBoost Systems (www.bitboost.com). The PawSense computer program recognizes the patterns of a cat walking across the keyboard. The program prevents further input once it launches, puts up a screen-saver and has the computer emit a noise to annoy the cat into walking away.

THE SCOOP

Healthy beak key to a healthy parrot

The beaks of most parrots are remarkably well-designed for one of their most important tasks: cracking, crushing or prying open the protective coatings around many of the foods they eat.

Like everything else on a creature designed for flight, the beak is surprisingly lightweight, considering its strength. It's essentially a hard shell of constantly growing material (similar to that found on antlers) placed over a hollow bony structure. (If a beak were made of solid bone, its weight would probably force a bird to spend his life on the ground, and on his nose.)

Lightweight it may be, but a parrot's beak is also very strong. Although a person would need a hammer or nutcracker to get through hard shells to the nutmeat, a bird needs only his beak, and perhaps a foot to hold the nut in place.

A parrot has such strength in his beak that owners are often surprised to see even the bars of a metal cage fall victim. Birds have been known to pick off the welds holding bars together -- and sometimes get lead or zinc poisoning as a result -- or even snap the bars themselves. That's why a cheap cage with shoddy construction will turn out to be no bargain when faced with the destructive abilities of a parrot.

Although beaks are constantly growing at a rate of 1 inch to 3 inches per year, depending on the species, the beak of a healthy bird will remain at a healthy length with normal chewing activities -- no trimming required. In fact, an overgrown beak is frequently a sign of illness, such as liver disease or malnutrition.

Because a healthy beak is essential to a healthy bird, see an avian veterinarian if you observe any problems.

BY THE NUMBERS

What reptiles cost

Prices for pet reptiles and amphibians are influenced by such factors as the rarity of a species or unusual markings. The following figures are the 2004 reported average cost to buy such a pet. Averages include the 42 percent who paid nothing to acquire their pets, such as children catching frogs in the wild.

Snake $83

Iguana $70

Lizard $42

Turtle/tortoise $16

Frog/toad $9

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association

PETS ON THE WEB

Guide good source for helping rats

Good veterinary care can be hard to find for little pets like rats. Not to mention, a lot of people balk at spending more to treat a so-called "pocket pet" than it costs to replace one.

Because of these rather stark realities, it's a good idea to put some effort into the proper care of these little pets and to have some basic knowledge of what to do when one gets sick.

The Rat Guide (www.ratguide.com) is just the ticket. The thorough and fully searchable collection of articles, developed with the assistance of veterinarians, offers countless suggestions to improve the lives of these affectionate pets. And if a rat does become ill, the guide can help there, too.

After all, just because a pet is inexpensive to acquire and care for doesn't mean it should have a miserable life, or be allowed to suffer when sick.

Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600