Pet Connection

Friending Felines

Want to make friends with a cat? Read on to learn the secret

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When we visited family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a couple of years ago, we received two different receptions from their cats. Lucy struck up a friendship with us right away, but Lilu was more cautious. Maybe it was the lingering scent of dog clinging to our clothes. By the next morning, though, she sat next to me on the kitchen island while I prepared my tea.

Last month, I visited my mother, who had recently acquired a new cat. Tracy, a pretty but shy lynx-point Siamese, ran as soon as she saw me walk in the door. She continued to do so any time I made a move, but by the next evening, she was content to stay in my presence -- and even jumped up on a chair and let me pet her.

What’s the secret to getting a cat’s attention and trust? Play hard to get.

That’s right. Ignoring a cat is the quickest way to gain his interest and display your expert-level knowledge of feline etiquette. People who dislike cats often wonder why cats seek them out. It’s because cats appreciate people who don’t approach them and instead let cats make the first move.

Wailani Sung, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist at San Francisco SPCA, explains why. She says that while cats are predators of small creatures, they are also prey to larger predators. To protect themselves, they prefer to wait and watch when strangers enter their territory.

“They like to take a step back and assess the newcomer to determine if the person exhibits any threatening body language toward them,” she says.

When I visit a home with cats, I’m careful to avoid eye contact with them. Feline body language is subtle. While humans consider a direct glance an indication of polite interest, in “felinese” it’s an act of aggression. Reaching toward a cat is also impolite. Whenever possible, I take a path through the house that won’t take me near the cat.

To improve Tracy’s opinion of me, I volunteered to set down her food bowl when it was mealtime, still careful not to look at her. I refilled her water dish and scooped her litter box. I turned on her favorite plaything, an electronic spinning toy that she enjoyed batting. The next evening, when I was standing by Mom’s recliner, Tracy jumped onto it, seemingly unconcerned by my proximity.

“When the cat decides to come over, I usually stick my index finger out and allow the cat to sniff,” Dr. Sung says. “The cat can get my scent and decide if he is going to be friendly or not.”

Cats that decide to be friendly may rub your finger with their cheek. If a cat allows you to pet him, stroke the side of the face, beneath the chin or along the side. Those are the areas cats focus on when they interact physically, greeting each other with nose touches and rubbing with the sides of the face and body. Cats that are still unsure about you may pull back or, if they’re especially uncomfortable, hiss before moving away. Give them more time.

There are other ways to attract a reluctant cat. It’s never a bad idea to offer treats to gain a cat’s favor, but be polite about it.

“Instead of expecting the cat to take the treat from your finger, allow the cat to sniff the treat and then place it on the ground,” Dr. Sung says.

Some cats require multiple visits before they become accustomed to your face, not to mention your scent and the sound of your voice. Be patient, and there’s a good chance that sooner rather than later they’ll favor you with their attention. But only on their terms, not yours.

Q&A

Say no to turkey

bones for pets

Q: With Thanksgiving coming up, I was wondering if it’s OK to give my dog the leftover turkey bones from the feast?

A: I know it’s tempting, but that’s not a good idea -- no bones about it.

Dogs certainly love to eat bones, and during the holidays they are extra tempted to raid the trash for leftovers or steal meat with bones off the table, but cooked bones hold risks you don’t want to deal with. They can splinter, puncturing the intestinal tract and potentially causing serious or even fatal bacterial infections.

Bones can also cause an intestinal blockage. When that occurs, you may be taking your dog to the veterinarian for X-rays every day or two to make sure the bones are dissolving and passing safely through the system and out the back end. Worst-case scenario, your dog will need emergency surgery to remove the blockage.

There are other reasons not to give bones of any kind:

-- Large or oddly shaped bones (think T-bones or beef vertebrae) can become stuck in the esophagus, causing choking, or elsewhere in the intestinal tract.

-- Dogs who gulp bones instead of gnawing them thoroughly can choke on them.

-- Dogs can break a tooth on a bone, requiring an expensive repair or extraction.

-- Bones can become lodged on the lower jaw and must be removed by the veterinarian.

-- An assortment of bones or bone fragments in the intestinal tract can cause canine constipation.

-- Sharp bone fragments passing through can cause pain and bleeding from the rectum.

Bottom line: I always advise against giving dogs poultry or fish bones, and other bones are cause for concern as well. To prevent unauthorized bone intake, don’t leave them on the counter or in a trash can that is accessible to your dog. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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

THE BUZZ

Researchers seek healthy

dogs for aging trial

-- Want to contribute to science -- with your dog? Veterinarians studying aging at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are seeking healthy, middle-aged dogs of any breed or mix weighing 40 to 80 pounds to participate in a clinical trial. The goal is to see if the immunosuppressive drug rapamycin can improve age-related decline in cardiac function and increase the healthy period of a dog’s life. In the first phase of the Dog Aging Project, researchers found evidence of mild improvements in heart function in healthy dogs, with no significant side effects or adverse events. For more information, email rapaphase2@dogagingproject.com.

-- Pet-loving visitors to or residents of Jefferson City, Missouri, can check out the first museum in the United States dedicated to veterinary medicine. Exhibits include more than 1,000 artifacts, including 18th-century veterinary encyclopedias from Germany, antique veterinary instruments, examples of potent patent medicines given to animals and humans, a 19th-century small-animal surgical suite and a display featuring military veterinary surgeons and farriers, from the Civil War through modern times. The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association Veterinary Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed weekends and holidays.

-- We all know that cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt, but did you know that cats are also important players in the mythology of other cultures? The Norse goddess Freya’s chariot was pulled by two giant cats. Farmers who wanted a little crop insurance left pans of milk in their fields for Freya’s cats. In Celtic mythology, the Scottish Highlands are haunted by a fairy cat known as the Cat Sidhe, described as being as large as a dog with black fur and a white spot on the chest. And in Cherokee folklore, the wampus cat has shape-shifting powers. -- 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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