Cat lovers are notoriously resistant to putting collars on their cats. Some just get tired of replacing the ones their cats keep slipping off; other people are convinced their roaming darlings will get caught on a tree branch by their collars and hang themselves.
Both groups are taking chances with their pets' lives. Cat collars are inexpensive insurance against loss, and as for the danger of being collared, shelter officials sadly admit to putting down scores of obviously lost cats because they cannot match them to their owners -- but never to finding cat skeletons in trees.
It's all about the importance of playing the odds. If you let your cat roam, give him a ticket home with ID. Even if your cat won't make it home again because he's been hit by a car or other calamity -- an all-to-common end to roaming cats -- you'll at least have the peace of mind of knowing his fate. That kind of news is never welcome, but it's always better than being left wondering and waiting.
Cat collars are made of lightweight material and designed to "give" enough to let your cat wriggle free should the collar ever catch on something. Don't get a puppy collar by mistake: Dog collars are meant to prevent escapes, and cat collars are made to allow them. The fit should be snug, but not uncomfortably so.
Once you've got the right collar, order a tag. ID tags come in high-impact plastic in a variety of colors and shapes or in metal, also in many varieties, such as circles, cat's heads, reflectors and so on. Since cat tags are small, don't bother with putting your cat's name on it, since he won't answer anyway unless he feels like it. Instead, use the space for a couple of extra phone numbers so someone who finds your cat can locate you or a friend, neighbor or relative day or night. If you're concerned about dangling tags, look for those that attach flat to the collar.
Some communities require free-roaming cats to be licensed as a way to offset the costs of handling strays and to ensure compliance with local rabies-vaccination requirements. To find out if your community is one of these with licensing requirements for cats, call your local animal-control agency. In response to concern about dangling tags, some agencies issue tags that slip over collars, while a few offer the option of tiny ear tags.
Microchips are form of ID that has come on strong in recent years, but they work best as a complement to tags, not a replacement for them. The microchip is permanent identification no bigger than a grain of rice, which your veterinarian imbeds under the skin over your pet's shoulder blades using a large needle. The chip, encased in a nonreactive glass casing, contains a unique identifying number that can be read by a scanner, kind of like those in the grocery store.
Remember, though, that most lost pets are found not by shelter staffers but by neighbors, and neighbors don't have microchip scanners in their collection of home appliances. Which is why although I highly recommend a microchip for permanent ID of your pet, I also advise you to be sure a collar and tag is on him at all times, too.
PETS ON THE WEB
Not surprisingly, some folks who adore domesticated skunks as pets thought my recent response to a question about them was a tad on the negative side. They differed with Dr. Linda Randall's assertion that the animals were destructive, and challenged me to set the record straight on their pets. One fancier, Shelor Brumbeloe of Georgia, sent me a brochure that is duplicated on her Skunk Lady Web site: www.geocities.com/(tilde)octodont/skunklady.
Curiously, the site confirms most of what Dr. Randall said, discussing ways to "skunk-proof" a home to prevent destructive digging at carpets or walls. While eye-numbingly text-heavy, Brumbeloe's page has a great deal on these pets, along with information on regional "skunks as pets" organizations and links to other skunk pages. If you'd like to learn more about skunk pets, this is a great place to start.
It's that time of year again: Thump your car before you start it, and don't be surprised if a cat comes flying out from underneath.
Cats are heat-seeking missiles, and on cold nights the ones unfortunate enough to have no shelter seek out the warmest places they can. Veterinarians know well what can happen to those heat-seekers who snuggle up to a warm engine and don't wake up in time to avoid injury.
Cars aren't the only cold-weather hazard for cats. Every year clothes dryers claim lives, too, after pets snuggled into a warm pile of clothes in the dryer and remained there when a family member unknowingly closes the door and turns the appliance back on.
This is another easy-to-prevent tragedy. Keep the door to your clothes dryer closed, and to be doubly sure, make sure your cat's not sleeping inside before you use it.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have two dogs, one a retriever mix, the other a Belgian shepherd mix. They stay primarily in the house. Their coats are shiny, they have no unpleasant odor, and if their paws get muddy from the yard, I wash their paws. Consequently, I bathe them perhaps twice a year. I also brush them every other week or so. My girlfriend thinks I should bathe them more often, despite the fact that she also agrees they don't smell. What are your thoughts? -- M.B., via the Internet
A: There's something to be said for the idea of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." If your dogs have a glossy coat, skin that's not flaking or showing other signs of problems, and you're happy with how they smell, then you're probably doing just fine. As you've discovered, regular brushing goes a long way toward extending the period between baths, redistributing the oils in the coat and getting rid of dirt and debris.
I would, however, be especially vigilant for fleas, which could throw everything out of kilter. The presence of fleas is most easily detected by looking for "flea dirt," a euphemism for blood-packed excrement of these voracious pests. Put your dog on a light-colored sheet and run your fingers deep against the grain of the fur. If you see little pepper-like specks on the sheet, my condolences: You've got flea dirt, and hence, fleas. Add a drop of water to the pepper and you'll see red as the dried blood remains become rehydrated. (Actually, anything having to do with fleas makes me see red. I flat-out hate them!)
Talk to your veterinarian about the new monthly spot-on products, Advantage and Frontline. They're easy to use and highly effective.
My own dogs get bathed about once a month, although the two retrievers see lake water considerably more frequently than they see bathwater. Between my allergies and the fact that all three of them sleep on the bed, I find that a good monthly sudsing makes them easier to live with -- less fur, less dirt, cleaner bedspread. They disagree and would rather skip the baths entirely. Too bad. As long as I'm paying for the kibble, they get baths.
Q: I am tired of watching my dog drink out of the toilet. It turns my stomach. I've yelled at her, spanked her and she won't stop. She just waits until she thinks I'm not looking, and I hear the "slurp, slurp, slurp." What can I do? -- T.B., via the Internet.
A: Close the bathroom door, put down the toilet lid, or both.
While it's true you can train a dog to do or not do a wide variety of things, sometimes it just makes more sense to look for another solution. Look at it for a minute from your dog's point of view: fresh water, frequently changed and in a container conveniently raised. Heck, if your dog thought about it, she'd be ticked at you for doing what you do in her water bowl.
This is a problem I never had until recently because my dogs were too short to reach the bowl. The big dogs find the bowl very convenient. I keep the lid down and, just in case I forget, skip any drop-in bowl cleaners.
A similar complaint I hear is from owners of pets that won't keep out of the kitchen trash bin. Solution: Get a bin with a pedal that raises the lid, or put the bin under the sink.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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