The knock on cats by people who don't like them is that they're unpredictable. One of the traits often mentioned in support of this nonsense is how a cat will go from calmly being petted to attacking the hand that's caressing him -- and without any warning, it seems.
Sorry, but it just doesn't happen that way.
While many people will miss the signs of a change in attitude, if you know what you're looking for, a cat's body language will speak loudly and clearly as to what's going on in the animal's mind, especially when it comes to those seemingly out-of-the-blue attacks.
It's important to remember that cats are very sensitive to touch. The degree of sensitivity has both genetic and social factors. Some cats are born jumpy, while others are made that way because of a lack of socialization or proper training in their kittenhoods. (Never let a kitten come to believe fingers are for chewing on, even in play. Redirect your kitten's playful energy to toys instead.)
Activity levels also play a part in how much petting a cat will tolerate. Heavier, larger cat breeds are usually more satisfied to be sluggish lap kitties than are the lighter, more willowy ones who like to stay on the move.
While you likely can't turn a skitty kitty into a total lap potato, you can work to increase your pet's tolerance for petting by paying close attention to his body language as you slowly increase the time he spends in your lap.
You must first recognize that if your cat bites your hand while you're petting him, you've missed more than a couple of messages from him asking you to stop. The key one: a tail twitch that becomes more agitated, and finally escalates into a noticeable thump or thrash.
You should also be aware that some places are more sensitive than others. For a highly reactive cat, restrict your caresses to behind the ears, under the chin or the base of the tail. A long stroke down the back is too much for some kitties, and you're really taking chances when you decide to tickle your cat's tummy. The cats who enjoy it are well-outnumbered by the cats who'll quickly tire of a tummy rub and seek to stop it with teeth and claws.
Work to build your cat's tolerance to touch over time. When you pick your cat up for a petting session, don't surprise him. Come up on him slowly and pick him up gently, making sure his whole body is supported with a hand under his chest and one beneath his legs.
Pet him in the safe areas on his body only, watching for the first sign of a tail twitch. When you get that early warning sign, put your cat down immediately but gently. Don't let it go so far that he feels the need to jump off you or to bite. The key is to work up to the outskirts of tolerance and stop there, so your cat will learn to trust you in longer sessions.
Never hit a cat for biting. If you miss the signs and end up in your cat's nonaffectionate embrace, just freeze. Providing no resistance will help calm your cat so he will just let go. If you fight back or physically punish your cat, you are more likely to get bitten or scratched in the short run, and damage your relationship with your pet in the long run.
You cat is acting in the only way he knows how. It's up to you to teach him how pleasant petting can be. As any cat lover will tell you, teaching your cat to tolerate petting is well worth the effort -- for the both of you.
PETS ON THE WEB
Patti Moran almost single-handedly created the pet-sitting industry, founding an association and setting standards for others to meet. Her own pet-sitting business grew from two employees to more than 40, and she documented her success in a popular book, "Pet Sitting for Profit" (Hungry Minds Inc., $17.95). The association she founded, Pet Sitters International (www.petsit.com), offers help on its Web site to both those who want to start a business and those who want to find someone good to look after their pets. The organization also promotes a "Take Your Dog to Work Day," which this year will be held on June 22.
Characterized by the side-to-side sliding of one jaw over the other, the sound a parrot makes when grinding its bill may be annoying to you, but it should be music to your ears. That's because usually grinding attests to a satisfied and secure bird. You're most likely to hear grinding after your pet has a big meal (in which case, the expression is comparable to the belt-loosening utterances some humans let fly in similar circumstances). Some parrots also making grinding noises when they're drifting off to sleep.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Please share these tips with your readers in reference to cleaning up pet urine.
When fresh urine comes out of the body, it is relatively clean, with little bacteria in the acid state. As the urine dries, it turns into alkaline salts, in which bacteria flourish and give off an odor. You should first treat an old urine stain with an acid solution (such as vinegar and water), which would offset the alkaline and bring the stain to a neutral pH. You should then apply an enzyme treatment to destroy the bacteria and eliminate the smell.
Since fresh urine is acid, adding vinegar doesn't help: It actually sets the stain in an acid state. In essence, you have given the urine more power to turn into alkaline state and smell. Once in alkaline state, the stain will attract moisture out of the air, activating salts and bacteria and smelling again and again.
Never add vinegar to a fresh urine spill. Instead, blot with warm water and a towel several times. Follow with a mild dish detergent, one teaspoon per quart of water, and continue to rinse and dry. Finally, add an enzyme treatment to eat any bacteria that may be present.
Enzyme treatments are manufactured under many different names and are available in pet-supply stores and catalogs.
I hope this information helps. I too have pets and go though the same problems as everyone else. -- Vince Elko, Rocky Carpet Cleaners, Folsom, Calif.
A: Thanks for the tips. It seems as if urine problems are something that we pet lovers never completely escape. After years of living with perfectly house-trained dogs, I now find myself cleaning up small urine spills on a regular basis. Occasional leaking goes with the territory when you have a dog who's quickly approaching the age of 15.
Someday I'm going to build my dream house, and one of the most pet-friendly features will be the floors. I see them as completely waterproof and scratchproof, and I see a big drain in the middle. Every day I'll just take a big hose and rinse everything away -- paw prints, pet hair and the occasional accident alike.
Please don't tell me this is impossible. Leave me to my dreams!
Q: Would it be a good idea to get two puppies at once? I'm in and out a lot and worry about leaving a puppy alone. Would getting two at once help to ease the loneliness, or would it create problems of which I am unaware? I have had only one dog previously, and I lost her at age 14 a decade ago. -- L.E., via e-mail
A: Most people haven't the time to raise one puppy right, and trying to raise two at once can be setup for disaster.
Two puppies who are raised together will often bond more tightly with each other than with the human members of the house, especially if the pups are from the same litter. Experienced show breeders, who often "grow out" a pair of promising puppies, often get around this problem by sending one of the youngsters to be raised by another breeder.
House-training can be a challenge with two puppies, because one may not get the concept as quickly as the other. Fresh messes from the one who's not getting it may prompt backsliding in the other pup. Obedience training and all-important socialization can also be hard, since you have to find the time to work with each puppy individually.
If you wish to have two dogs more or less "instantly," I'd recommend adopting an adult dog and then a puppy. Give the adult dog a couple of months to settle before bringing in the pup. You'll still need to take time to work with both individually, but if you choose properly, the adult dog should slide easily into your life, giving you ample time to work with the puppy.
You should also consider adopting two adult dogs. Puppies are wonderful, but there's a lot to be said about skipping those crazy first months of their lives. For many families, an adult dog is flat-out a better match.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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