Spring is such a lovely time, an explosion of color and life displacing the gloom of what sometimes seems winter unending. But I always have mixed feelings about this time of year because of kitten season.
Already I hear the yowling of tomcats fighting for mates, the cries of cats in the throes of creating new life. Already I've seen a sign offering free kittens, from a box in front of my grocery store. And I know we've just started, with more fights, more matings and more kittens nonstop until the weather turns cold again.
I love everything about kittens. But the joy of their company is not enough to offset the sadness I feel after having spent too much time seeing what happens to those who don't find homes. Year after year, more kittens are born than are wanted or will be cared for, and for those, the future is grim.
The answer? Spaying and neutering, of course.
According to a survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly 80 percent of the cats and dogs in the United States and Canada are spayed or neutered. What do these people know that you don't? Here are a few facts to consider:
-- A neutered tomcat is less likely to roam, less likely to fight (and less likely to cost you money to patch him up), and less likely to spray urine to mark his territory. He's more likely to live longer, because the cat who's looking for a mate is really looking for trouble. If a car doesn't get him, infectious disease (spread by fighting or mating) or cancer may.
-- A spayed female is a more attentive and loving pet because her energy isn't constantly directed toward finding a mate. (Cats are in heat nearly all the time until they become pregnant.) If you spay your cat, you protect her from some cancers and infections, and from sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
"Spaying" and "neutering" are the everyday terms for the surgical sterilization of a pet. Neutering, or altering, is also used to describe both procedures.
Although the procedures are among the most common, a lot of people don't understand what's involved. Spaying is the removal of the female's entire reproductive system: The uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries are taken out through an incision in the abdomen. Some veterinarians use stitches that have to be removed in about 10 days' time, while others use those that are absorbed into the body. Recovery is fast, taking just a few days, during which you should limit your cat's activities -- no jumping or boisterous play.
In neutering, the cat's testicles are removed through incisions in the scrotum, the pouch holding the testicles. These incisions are generally left unstitched in this relatively minor procedure. Post-operative care normally involves keeping the incisions clean and dry. Some veterinarians recommend keeping the cat inside (if he is not already an indoor pet) and using shredded newspaper in place of litter until the incisions close, which usually happens within three to five days.
Enjoy the full potential of a beautiful spring by making sure that your cat, at least, isn't part of the problem of unwanted kittens. There's just no reason not to. Whether your cat has had a litter or is an accident waiting to happen, don't delay. Call your veterinarian or local humane group to get your pet altered. Don't let money be the delay: Many communities offer low-cost or even no-cost programs.
PETS ON THE WEB
The American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation (www.akcchf.org) funds research into improving the health of dogs. The foundation's Web site offers information on how pet lovers can help, along with listings of research projects in progress. More resources are promised, including information on inheritable diseases and how to prevent them. Recently, the foundation added an area where visitors can ask questions of experts in such subjects as training, breed characteristics and health.
A better ride for pets is in the works. The American Kennel Club's magazine, the Gazette, reports in its May issue that GMC is putting features in one of its SUVs to make the vehicle more practical to pet lovers. The Envoy Pet Pro model will offer air vents to the cargo area, a vacuum cleaner, pet-safety belts, a built-in dog ramp, slide-out tray in the cargo area, rear-window shades and storage units designed to carry dog gear. GM's move follows one by Swedish manufacturer Saab, which has offered pet-friendly features in its wagon for a couple of years.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: One of my golden retrievers has a problem with chewing his toys to pieces. He has never chewed anything that doesn't belong to him. However, if he's given a tennis ball, Kong, teddy bear, etc., it's seek-and-destroy time.
The only toys we can give him are solid rubber balls, which work quite well. The only issue is, these toys are expensive, and tennis balls are much more affordable.
I may have to just live with his quirky behavior (at least he's not chewing my couch). But any suggestions would be appreciated. -- Y.M., via e-mail
A: Although it's not the answer you're looking for, I think you should do more than live with the behavior -- you should be grateful for it!
Chewing is a natural, healthy behavior. It's also great exercise that's good for your pet. Plus, your golden is choosing something that you don't mind him chewing, aside from the expense. That makes you one of the lucky ones: I get lots of letters from people whose dogs chew things that aren't so replaceable.
Check out your pet-supply store for toys made to stand up to determined chewers. Although the Kool Kongs (made for water retrieving) aren't designed for chewers, the company does make an Ultra King Kong model that stands up to a lot of heavy-duty jaw action. The rubber balls you mention are great, as is the Galileo dog toy. Check out catalogs and online suppliers to see if you can save money by buying a half-dozen or more of the same toy at a time.
You might also try increasing the frequency and duration of your dog's exercise as well, to help burn off some of that excess energy he's channeling into chewing.
Finally, a word about tennis balls. They should never, ever be offered as chew toys, although they're fine for supervised games of fetch. I've heard of cases where tennis balls have killed dogs! That has happened when dog compresses a ball with his jaw, and then it pops into his airway and expands, blocking the dog's ability to breathe.
With my retrievers, I take tennis balls to the dog park for retrieving, but I bring out the Kongs and other sturdy toys for times when all they want to do is chew. They never touch a tennis ball except for retrieving.
Q: I have two Saint Bernard pups, a male and female 13 and 12 weeks old. I have owned Saints before, but never two at once. My problem: They fight constantly. Regardless of how hard I try to structure their time, they would rather battle it out wherever they are.
I have been told this is what pups do; however, I feel they should be able to understand this behavior is not acceptable all the time. Am I doing more harm than good by interfering? -- T.M., via e-mail
A: Play -- even rough play as these two are engaged in -- is perfectly normal with puppies and even with adult dogs. And that's what I'm guessing is going on with these youngsters -- rough play, not really fighting.
But as normal as play is to a pair of puppies, unless you want a couple of 100-pound-plus dogs trashing your house, you'll need to set limits for these youngsters now, letting them know what's acceptable when they're inside.
You've taken on a big task raising two puppies together, especially two that are going to be as big as these ones are. I don't recommend what you've done, by the way, suggesting to most people that they space the puppies at least a year apart, or adopt an adult dog and then a puppy. You have the canine equivalent of having more than one kid in diapers -- and that's a lot of work.
Don't let these puppies raise each other. Spend time with each one individually, working on your bonding and on basic training. I recommend you find a good trainer or behaviorist who can guide you over the rough spots; ask your veterinarian for a referral.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600