Pet Connection

Show Time!

A benched dog show such as Westminster is a great way to see unusual breeds and learn more about any breeds you might be interested in

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Whose dog is best?

People have been arguing about that for centuries, if not millennia. In the 19th century, the competition was heightened by the creation of dog shows. In 1877, gentlemen of Gilded Age New York, members of the Westminster Kennel Club, staged “The First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs.”

Today we know it as Westminster, the Super Bowl of dog shows, annually drawing millions of dog-loving watchers in person and worldwide via television and streaming video. This year -- the 143rd -- 2,879 dogs of 204 breeds and varieties will strut their stuff at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11 and 12.

As many times as I’ve been to Westminster or watched it on television, it’s still fun to see the spectacle. There are dogs from all 50 states -- with the largest contingent of 246 from California -- the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 14 other countries, including Canada, South Korea and Thailand.

Westminster is a benched show, meaning that when they’re not in the ring, dogs are on display for the public to see and even touch -- with the breeder or handler’s permission, of course. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal with breeds you’re considering as companions, to see just how big they are, find out how much fur they have, and most important, ask the experts what they’re like to live with.

Most people are familiar with the televised spectacle that is group competition, but the show begins at the breed level, with members of each breed competing for best of breed, the title that will take them into the group competition.

Who are the dogs competing? The top five dogs in each breed receive an invitation, but that still leaves approximately 1,780 spots available. Dogs who have earned points toward a championship can be entered; whether they get in depends on how quickly the entry is delivered. First come, first served.

Dogs who prevail in each breed during the day appear in the ring Monday and Tuesday evenings to compete for a spot in the groups. This year, hound, toy, nonsporting and herding breeds compete on Monday; sporting, working and terrier are on Tuesday. Then the winners of each group compete for best in show. Two new breeds join the fray this year: the Nederlandse kooikerhondje and the grand basset griffon Vendeen.

Whether they are toy poodles or Tibetan mastiffs, every dog entered is a top athlete, both physically and mentally. Fitness routines include working out on treadmills, swimming or jogging. Show dogs often score the services of pet massage therapists, acupuncturists or chiropractors to keep their bodies in good working order. Beneath perfectly coiffed coats, muscles ripple. Mentally, they must enjoy being in the spotlight, be adaptable to different environments, and be able to face the stresses of competition and being on the road for weeks or months at a time as they travel to shows and rack up points toward top-dog status.

Some Westminster trivia: Terrier breeds have won best in show 46 times, making them the winningest group. Sporting breeds are next, with 20 wins. Papillon Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being (nicknamed Kirby) was the first dog to win both the World Dog Show (1998) and Westminster. The toy breed with the most Westminster wins is the Pekingese, with four. Poodles (non-sporting and toy) have nine wins: four by standards, three by miniatures and two by toys. The oldest dog to win was Sussex spaniel Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, nicknamed Stump, in 2009, when he was 10 years old. The youngest was 9-month-old rough collie Laund Loyalty of Bellhaven in 1929.

Q&A

Tips on cat

coat health

Q: I just got my first cat. What do I need to know about caring for her coat?

A: Cats are great at grooming themselves, but they need a little help from you as well. And caring for your cat’s coat is one of the best ways to keep tabs on her well-being. As you brush and comb her to remove dead hair (reducing the likelihood of hairballs) and distribute skin oils, you’ll find clues to your cat’s health.

A healthy cat has a lustrous coat that doesn’t feel coarse, greasy, dull, dry or brittle. Cats shed hair normally, but excessive hair loss or bare patches could be the result of external parasites or of stress related to the cat’s environment or interactions with other animals or humans.

For instance, cats who lick, scratch and bite at their skin or rub against the floor or furniture may have itchy bites from parasites, such as fleas or mites, or a food or contact allergy. Tiny black and white specks on the coat or skin are also signs of flea infestation. Cats being bullied by other animals or adapting to a new person in the household may pull out their fur in frustration.

Cats allowed to go outdoors may come back with bite wounds from fights, which are often discovered during grooming. Bite wounds can form abscesses -- painful, pus-filled sores -- that can cause your cat pain when you accidentally discover them during a brushing or combing session.

As you groom your cat, look for lumps or bumps that could be signs of problems. These can range from feline acne, often caused by plastic food and water bowls, to harmless cysts beneath the skin to rapidly enlarging lumps that may be cancerous. Bring any such skin problem to your veterinarian’s attention so it can be treated before it becomes serious. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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

THE BUZZ

How to save on

pet med purchases

-- Saving money on pet prescriptions is great, but your pet’s safety is even more important. To ensure that medications you purchase online are effective, check with your state’s pharmacy board (visit the website nabp.pharmacy) to make sure the pharmacy providing them has a valid license. The American Veterinary Medical Association says to avoid purchasing medications from any pharmacy that doesn’t require a prescription or from pharmacies located outside the United States. They may be selling counterfeit medications or products that don’t contain any active ingredients at all.

-- The Kurilian bobtail lives up to the name, with no two tails alike. The naturally short tails can resemble a whisk, a spiral or a fluffy pom-pom. The rare cats, which originated on islands off the Russian coast, are brawnier than their compact bodies might suggest and are covered in a soft, silky coat that can be short or long. Females weigh 8 to 11 pounds and males up to 15 pounds. Despite their gentle personality, they are excellent mousers. Don’t expect to find one anytime soon; fewer than 100 are living in the United States.

-- The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine will launch an open-heart surgery program for dogs later this year, becoming the only fully functional program of its kind in the United States and the only one to offer the complex procedure known as mitral valve repair. The program will be a collaboration between UF and renowned veterinary cardiologist Masami Uechi, DVM, Ph.D., of the JASMINE Veterinary Cardiovascular Medical Center in Yokohama, Japan. Dr. Uechi and his team will provide training in mitral valve repair surgery to UF cardiologists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, perfusionists, critical care specialists and other key staff with the ultimate goal of UF being able to operate and maintain the program independently. -- 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.

More like Pet Connection