One of the most pervasive myths about cats is that they care more about places than people. This idea is surely based on how free-roaming cats have a difficult time leaving a home behind and will travel blocks, or even miles, to return to old stomping grounds.
Cats are highly territorial and will seek out familiar places when stressed, which is why they attempt to return to their old homes. But they'll be much happier going where you go if you take steps to ease their transition from one home to another.
While you'll never manage a stress-free move for either you or your cat, you can make the best of the situation by keeping your pet secure before, during and after the move, and then by allowing your pet to gradually adapt to his new surroundings.
The best way to move your cat is to confine him to a "safe room" before and after the move, and transport him from one house to another in a secure carrier. The ideal safe room is a spare bedroom or bathroom where your cat isn't going to be disturbed, and where he can be outfitted with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.
Don't feel bad about confining your pet. He'll be more relaxed in a small space where he won't be subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping around his house with the family belongings. Confining your cat also prevents him from slipping outside, which is a danger at both the old and new home. A frightened cat may be hard to locate on the day of the move if you don't make sure he's somewhere you can put your hands on him.
When you get to your new home, leave the carrier, with its door removed, in the safe room. Close the door to the room and leave him be while you unpack. Coaxing him out of the carrier with treats and praise is fine, but let him choose when and how much of the safe room he wants to explore. Never drag him out -- you'll upset your cat, and you might get scratched or bitten.
A couple of days after you've unpacked and things have settled down, open the door to the safe room so your cat can explore the rest of the house. Even if you plan to let him outside, keep him in for a couple of weeks. He needs to stay inside to start forming a bond with his new surroundings. Better still, make the most of the opportunity offered by a move and convert your pet to indoor-only status. Your new neighbors will appreciate it, and your cat will live a longer, safer life.
It's relatively easy to make the conversion in a new home. He'd carry on like crazy in your old home if locked in, but in new surroundings he'll accept the change with little fuss. Part of the reason cats don't like to convert to indoor-only is because they've marked the outside as part of their territory and have a natural desire to revisit and re-mark it. A newly moved cat will learn to accept the territory he has been offered, and if the outdoors isn't part of it, he won't miss it as much.
Above all, don't rush your cat through a move. Confinement during the transition is also good for avoiding behavior problems that might pop up with the stress of moving. By limiting your cat's options to the litter box and scratching post in his small safe room, he will quickly redevelop the good habits he had in your old home.
PETS ON THE WEB
Anyone who's thinking about buying or adopting a purebred dog must be aware of which inherited diseases are common in the breed or breeds under consideration. Such maladies are common in purebreds and can lead to expensive veterinary care, temperament problems and shortened or pain-filled lives.
The Canine Inherited Disorders Database (www.upei.ca/(tilde)cidd/intro.htm) offers pet lovers the information they need to help make an intelligent choice, and it reinforces the necessity of dealing only with a reputable, experienced breeder when looking for a purebred dog.
The site is still in development. For example, information on inherited diseases is thorough and complete, but not yet cross-referenced by breed. Yet this well-written, easy-to-navigate site is one that pet lovers, dog breeders and veterinarians should bookmark for future reference.
Unwanted offspring aren't the only reason why it's important to spay or neuter pet rabbits. Just as with altering dogs and cats, altering rabbits eliminates many health and behavior problems.
Female rabbits, for example, are at a high risk for uterine cancer, a leading killer of these pets over the age of 2. Spaying also removes the potential for common and potentially lethal reproductive-system infections. Besides extending your pet's life span, altering eliminates sex-related behavior problems. Sexually mature rabbits can be territorial or even aggressive, and may spray urine.
Spaying and neutering are riskier for rabbits than they are for dogs and cats because anesthesia is a little trickier. Be sure you're dealing with a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits, and ask about anesthesia, listening for the magic word "Isoflurane," which is preferred for use with rabbits. The final safety precaution is yours: Follow your veterinarian's pre- and post-operative directions precisely.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our daughter, who has just turned 9, has been bugging us for a pet of her own, and she wants a mouse, hamster or bunny. Do you have a preference as to which makes the best pet for a child her age? -- G.M., via e-mail
A: Yes, and it's not a mouse, hamster or rabbit. Although these have all been popular children's pets for years, I prefer to recommend a rat.
Mice are often shy, and hamsters tend to be nippy. Both of these pets are also a little small for children to handle -- it's easy to drop these tiny creatures, especially mice. Rabbits are difficult for children to learn how to hold properly, and they have backs that are easily broken if their lower bodies and legs are not well-supported when held.
A well-cared-for and properly socialized pet rat is outgoing, playful and inquisitive. It can even be taught a few tricks, and it's of a size that's easy for a child to handle. If you look around, you may also be able to find breeders who are working to produce rats of many different coat markings, types and lengths. The life span of a well-cared-for rat is two to three years, and their care requirements are well within the capabilities of any child over the age of 8 or so.
The problem with pet rats is usually parental in origin. Some people just can't stand to look at those long, hairless tails and shudder at the very mention of a rat. Whatever you think of wild rats, the same doesn't apply when talking about their domesticated cousins. Pet rats aren't even dirty. They prefer to stay neat and will thrive in a clean environment. Give a rat a chance. You'll find they're quite the pet, indeed.
Remember that as a parent you must take the final responsibility for the care of any pet. Oversee your child's handling of the animal, and make sure the needs of the pet are covered. If you act as though the pet is something that can be neglected and easily discarded, you're sending an awful message to your child. Yes, pets can help a child learn to take responsibility, but they can also help children to learn to protect the welfare of other living beings. Don't neglect your opportunity to provide the lesson of caring to your child.
Q: Will you please warn your readers to make sure to keep all sewing or knitting projects put away when not working on them? We just lost a kitten that decided to play with a needle and thread, and wound up swallowing both. -- P.W., via e-mail
A: I shudder every time I see an advertisement or greeting card showing a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, since every such image surely allows pet lovers to remain blissfully ignorant of the dangers in just such a plaything. Kittens and cats love to play with string, ribbon, thread and yarn, but if they ingest any such material, they could end up in real trouble. The substance may need to be surgically removed, or may go undetected until it's too late.
While it's fine to play toy-on-a-string with your cat or kitten, make sure you put the toy away when you cannot supervise. And be sure that every craft project that involves stringy material is picked up and stored where your pet cannot find it.
A related danger is the string that holds a roast together. Saturated with meat juices, it may prove irresistible to the cat who can get at it in a garbage pail, so make sure it's disposed of in a manner that keeps your pet safe.
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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