Pet Connection

Cat Chat

Did you know? 9 fascinating facts about cats from a feline expert

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The 25th annual conference of the Cat Writers Association took place last month, so this seemed like a good time to focus on felines. The keynote speaker at the CWA conference was veterinary behaviorist Debra Horwitz, DVM, who is currently raising two new Devon rex kittens herself. Here’s just a little of what attendees learned about cats from her talk.

1. Friendly interactions between cats include nose touches and a tail-up greeting. You probably knew that. But did you know that domestic cats and lions are the only members of the cat family who use the tail-up body posture to greet? No other felines do that.

2. Cats are adaptable, and they can learn a lot of things. “We have this idea that they’re independent and aloof, but we really don’t ask much of our cats,” Dr. Horwitz says. “You’d be surprised what they can learn when you ask them to do things.” You can’t train a cat with force, but with positive-reinforcement training, they can learn anything you can teach.

3. Cats have social relationships in their own particular way. They aren’t normally group-living animals; Horwitz describes them as not antisocial, but asocial. That means they are happy to live in groups or by themselves. Most often, they live in groups of related females -- mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts -- all sharing food resources. “So when you’re forming a household of cats, choose two sisters who are littermates,” Horwitz says. That’s what she did when she acquired her kittens.

4. Cats who like each other show it through touch. They sleep together, bodies touching, more frequently than would occur by chance and unrelated to ambient air temperature. Whether you’re observing a feral colony or cats in your home, you may notice that unless it’s extremely cold, only cats who are bonded will be touching each other. “Cats that like each other and live together amicably usually mark each other; they’ll go body to body, and they may even wrap tails,” Horwitz says. “We think part of that is the shared body odor.”

5. The cat’s meow? You may think he’s asking for food, but Horwitz says sometimes cats just want to know what’s going on. Talk back to him!

6. Grooming is a normal feline behavior, but when cats groom themselves -- or other animals -- excessively or aggressively, that normal behavior is being expressed abnormally. The cat could have a behavior problem, a skin problem or a painful internal problem. For instance, Horwitz says, cats with painful interstitial cystitis often groom their stomachs excessively.

7. Feline personality and temperament are genetically determined, primarily by the father, and fall into three basic categories: sociable, confident and easygoing; timid, shy, nervous and unfriendly; and active or active aggressive. At different times, cats may express variations from their normal temperament, but in general it should stay the same. For instance, if a cat who is normally friendly suddenly becomes aggressive, something is wrong. A change in behavior can mean a cat doesn’t feel well or is uneasy with the current situation.

8. Cats love to explore, but unlike dogs, they are more random in the way that they check out a new place. Dogs usually go into one room, sniff all around, then go into the next room. Cats tend to go back and forth.

9. One of the unique things about domestic cats and small wildcats is that they play a dual role in life: They are not only predators, but also prey. That makes them good at hiding. You may think your cat is lost, but chances are she just has a hiding spot that you know nothing about -- and never will.


Heart disease

managed by vets

Q: My dog has mitral valve disease. How is it managed?

A: The heart has four valves that open and close to let blood flow in and out as the heart pumps. The mitral valve can degenerate and become leaky, allowing blood to wash back from the lower left chamber of the heart to the upper left chamber. Called regurgitation, this action forces the heart muscle to work harder to pump that blood out where it’s supposed to go, enlarging the heart and eventually resulting in congestive heart failure.

Currently, the condition is most commonly managed with regular checkups by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist to plot the disease’s progress, as well as medication, if needed. Exams every three to six months can help your dog’s cardiologist keep tabs on the size of the heart and recommend medication before she tips over into CHF. Cardiologists at New York City’s Animal Medical Center recommend chest X-rays to determine whether the heart is normal size or enlarged, and whether fluid is building up in the lungs. Echocardiograms create a real-time moving image of the heart as it beats, and play a role in determining heart function.

When the heart becomes enlarged, the cardiologist may recommend starting the dog on one or more medications to keep CHF at bay. Medications that help include diuretics to remove excess fluid in the body and positive inotropes such as pimobendan (Vetmedin) to improve the heart’s ability to contract and pump blood forward. Vasodilator drugs help to relax blood vessels so that blood moves through them more freely.

There is no cure for mitral valve disease, but it can be managed for a time with medication. A surgical procedure to repair the mitral valve is available from veterinary surgeons in the United Kingdom and Japan, and it may become available at the University of Florida later this year. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Genes might play

role in dog ownership

-- A study of 35,035 pairs of twins by Swedish and British scientists found that genes appear to account for more than half of the difference in dog ownership. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and fraternal twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons between groups can help to separate the influences of environment and genes on biology and behavior. Rates of dog ownership were much greater in identical twins, supporting the idea that genetics plays a role in the decision to get a dog. Carri Westgarth, lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and co-author of the study, says, “These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied.”

-- The American Veterinary Medical Association offers tips for keeping pets safe in hot weather. Outdoors, they need unlimited access to fresh water and shade. Ask your veterinarian to describe signs of heat stress so you can recognize it quickly. Protect pets from parasites such as fleas, ticks and heartworms. If you’re running errands on a hot day, leave pets at home in air-conditioned comfort. Walk, run or hike with pets on cool mornings and evenings, especially if they are overweight or short-nosed, and avoid walking them on hot surfaces such as asphalt.

-- Winning book entries at the 25th annual Cat Writers Association contest are "Absinthe Without Leave: A Midnight Louie Cafe Noir Mystery" by Carole Nelson Douglas; "Something Worth Saving," a novel about a boy and his cat, by Sandi Ward; "101 Essential Tips: Kitten or New Cat: Health & Safety" by ER veterinarian Jason Nicholas; "77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat" by Susan Ewing; and CFA Ambassador Cats adult coloring book by Austin Redinger. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


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 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 or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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