Universal Press Syndicate
We love the mystery of cats. Every cat keeps a part of his nature a secret, and for us cat lovers, the mystery is part of the charm.
But it's also part of the problem when trying to figure out if a cat is sick. Too often, the signs of illness in cats are so easy to miss that we don't notice our pets are ill until they're very ill indeed.
To catch illness early, a cat lover must become a keen observer not only of the physical cat, but also the emotional one.
Make observing your cat a part of your everyday routine. You don't have to make a big production out of it. Just be aware of any changes in your cat's condition in a session that begins with petting and ends with your cat's favorite game -- or more petting, if that's what your cat prefers. After all, anything that you and your pet find enjoyable, you'll continue to do on a regular basis, and routine health observances need to be regular to be useful.
You must be aware not only of your cat's body, but also of his personality. Many times, behavioral changes noticed by cat owners are later confirmed as illnesses through the use of such diagnostic tools as blood or urine tests. Again, your instincts are sometimes better than you know!
Always be aware of the subtle changes in your pet's behavior, especially regarding the following areas:
-- Changes in eating habits, especially loss of appetite. Be aware of how much your cat eats, and make a mental note of any changes. More than a day without eating is reason for concern. In a multicat household of free feeders, you may have a hard time figuring who's eating what. Make a conscious effort to see each of your cats at the food dish daily. Better yet, feed them measured portions daily.
-- Changes in litter-box habits. Many times, a "behavior" problem is really a health problem, such as a cat who is either avoiding the litter box or is using it more often than normal. A cat with an undiagnosed urinary-tract infection or diabetes, for example, may break his normal patterns of litter-box use. He's not "bad" -- he's sick!
-- Changes in drinking habits. Cats drink more in the summer than in the winter, but even taking that into consideration, you should be aware of changes in your cat's drinking habits, whether it's too much or too little.
-- Changes in grooming. If you notice your cat looking ill-kempt, he likely has a problem, especially if he's normally fastidious. Grooming is one of the most important parts of a cat's routine, and the cat who isn't taking care of his coat isn't well.
-- Changes in voice. You know what's normal for your cat -- how often he pipes up and how he sounds when he does. If your cat is noisier than usual or more quiet, or if the sounds he makes are different, something is going on.
Don't be shy about taking a cat to the veterinarian on a hunch. Veterinarians see such cats so often, they have shorthand for it: "ADR," for "ain't doing right." Many times your veterinarian's examination, coupled with a diagnostic test or two, will turn up a problem. With a proper diagnosis, your cat can be back on the road to good health quickly.
Prize drawings on PetConnection.com
Starting in March, everyone who signs up for the Pet Connection's twice-monthly e-mail newsletter will be automatically entered in a monthly drawing for pet-care gear and donations to pet-related local charities.
In March, Premier Pet is offering a gift basket worth $500 to the e-mail newsletter subscriber whose name is drawn on April 1. In addition, Premier will make a $500 cash donation to the nonprofit local shelter or rescue group of the winner's choosing.
The prizes change every month. Check out PetConnection.com for rules and details -- and to sign up for the e-mail newsletter.
Pudgy bun needs lifestyle change
Q: Our bunny is fat. He doesn't get much exercise, and he seems very unhappy when we cut down on his kibble. Do you have a suggestion? He is having a hard time getting into his litter box, and that means more cleanup. -- G.O., via e-mail
A: Ditch the pellets, and increase his ability to move.
Diet has a huge impact on the health and well-being of any creature, and the rabbit is no exception. Common health problems in the rabbit directly relate to diet, and those include obesity, gastrointestinal diseases and dental disease.
All pet rabbits need a high level of indigestible fiber, which, along with adequate water, is vital for the normal and healthy functioning of their gastrointestinal system. Rabbits need to have their levels of carbohydrates and protein controlled to avoid obesity and kidney disease.
Properly fed rabbits do not need to have supplements added to their diets. Rabbits produce a good portion of their own vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients through the production and re-eating of special feces called cecotropes.
A basic healthy daily diet for a domestic rabbit should include unlimited grass hay and a minimum of 1 cup of fresh leafy greens for every 2 pounds of body weight. Use as many varieties of greens as possible, and offer other vegetables and fruits as well, in more limited amounts. Rabbits also need an ongoing supply of fresh, clean water.
Pet rabbits do not need commercial food pellets. If used at all, the pellets should be of a high-fiber, low-protein variety given in very small amounts. Pellets should never be the only food for a pet rabbit.
Add toys to his environment, everything from hay-filled boxes for chewing to balls for rolling. If you can, add an exercise space –- a dog's exercise pen or portable toddler yard is ideal -- or give him a bunny-proofed part of a room to play in. A playmate isn't a bad idea either. Shelters and rescue groups have plenty of adult rabbits in desperate need of homes, and you should be able to bond with an adult rabbit with proper introductions.
If you do add an extra bunny, be sure both are neutered. They make better pets when de-sexed, and it prevents the addition of more unwanted rabbits. Don't delay, because rabbits breed like ... well, you know! -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Rare Singapura the smallest cat
-- "The smallest feline is a masterpiece," said Leonardo da Vinci. If that's the case, the Singapura must truly be an amazing work of art. The former Singapore street kitty is among the smallest breeds of cat, with females weighing as little as 5 pounds. The largest breeds? Look to the Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest, Ragdoll and Siberian. The males in these breeds often approach or even exceed 20 pounds.
-- The American Veterinary Medical Association and Hill's Pet Nutrition have joined together to help veterinarians and veterinary staff educate clients about the health implications of obesity in cats and dogs. The alliance is offering the 2008 Obesity Awareness and Prevention Kit to veterinary clinics, and is launching the 2008 PetFit Challenge and PetFit Tour. The kit contains materials to assist in starting the conversation with clients regarding the optimal weight of their cats and dogs. The program guide provides tips for initiating the weight discussion, promoting pet fitness and improving compliance. The kit also contains cat and dog owners' guides to healthy weight management, a tool for body-condition scoring, cards to remind owners when pets are due for a checkup, feeding cups and more. Veterinarians have in recent years become concerned with the increased number of obese pets and the health problems the extra weight causes.
-- Why don't dogs need to wear shoes? The thickness of their paw pads helps enable them to go "barefoot" on varying types of terrain, from hot sidewalks to snow-covered trails. It also helps that a dog's four feet (rather than our two) can redistribute his weight as needed, which offers a distinct advantage on rough ground. And a dog's claws are particularly beneficial for traction, assuming he can get some penetration of the surface. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Bulldog vaults into canine popularity
Despite his origins as a guard dog and bullfighter, there is no better-natured breed than the bulldog. His charm has earned him countless devoted fans, and last year it propelled him onto the American Kennel Club's list of the 10 most popular breeds.
The bulldog may be the dog world's undisputed Miss Congeniality, but his looks are definitely a matter of taste. Big-headed and full of wrinkles, he weighs around 50 pounds and stands just a little over a foot high. His compact size and modest exercise requirements make him perfect for apartment and city living.
But life with a bulldog isn't without its drawbacks. Even their biggest admirers admit they can be destructive chewers, often still behaving like puppies until the age of 3. Those endearing puppy ways make it hard for some owners to train them, with dire consequences for things such as shoes and table legs -- making bulldogs somewhat less than ideal for first-time dog owners.
Health is also an area of concern with the breed. Bulldogs frequently have serious difficulty breathing because of the structure of their neck and head, and they can't tolerate strenuous exercise. A hot bulldog can be a dead bulldog, so air conditioning is not optional in any but the coolest climates. Their coat needs little care, but their numerous folds and wrinkles need daily cleaning, especially around the eyes and tail.
As the bulldog's popularity grows, so does his appeal to those seeking to profit from it. Be sure to obtain your bulldog from a reputable rescue group -- check out www.rescuebulldogs.org -- or from a reputable breeder who is a member of the Bulldog Club of America (www.thebca.org). -- Christie Keith
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
The bond grows closer
According to the results of a survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, it seems we're getting even closer to our pets:
-- 82 percent of pet owners think of their pet more than once while they are away from the animal during the day.
-- 50 percent would pick a dog or cat rather than a human as a companion if stranded on a deserted island.
-- 93 percent are likely to risk their own life for their pet, while 64 percent of owners would expect their pet to come to their rescue if they were in distress.
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Vet meds can help cats cope
If your cat is unhinged, your veterinarian may prescribe Prozac to help calm the situation while your feline companion is learning better coping skills.
Giving your pet the medication as prescribed is important to the work of behavior modification. But what if your skitty kitty would rather rip you to bits than allow you to pill her?
No longer do you need to shove pills down your kitty's throat. Your veterinarian can prescribe a transdermal mix that you apply to the skin inside your feline's ear flap, or you can have the medication compounded into a tasty treat. Compound pharmacies will mail these medications to your home. Yes, these customized medications cost more, but isn't protecting your relationship with your kitty -- not to mention your safety -- priceless?
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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