We're in full stride on kitten season now, which means I'm getting questions about feline pregnancy from people who often had no idea they'd be midwife to pets who are often not much more than kittens themselves.
Typical questions include: How long does a cat pregnancy last? (On average, 66 days.) Do I need to help my pregnant cat with delivery? (Yes, usually by leaving her alone.) How do I know if she's close to delivering? (Watch for enlarged nipples and the secretion of a tiny amount of milk.)
The question I'm asked least often is the most important of all: How soon after my cat gives birth can she be spayed? (As soon as the babies are weaned, the sooner the better!)
Studies show that 80 percent of the cats and dogs in the United States and Canada are spayed or neutered. If your cat is not among them, 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, 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. The technical terms for the two operations are "ovariohysterectomy," for the female, and "castration," for the male -- which pretty much explains why "spaying" and "neutering" are the preferred terms.
Although the procedures are among the most common, many 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.
Most of the people who write me about pregnant cats are dealing with "oops" litters, the result of not getting their cat to the veterinarian in time. I sure hope they'll be calling to schedule an appointment for neutering as soon as those babies are weaned.
If you're allowing your cat to have "just one litter" because you want a kitten, please adopt a kitten instead. You'll find plenty to choose from at any shelter or rescue group. Many of them won't find homes so please help in any way you can.
More than 100 veterinarians have served in the Persian Gulf over the last two years, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which plans to honor their service with a resolution at the trade group's upcoming conference later this month.
Veterinarians in the armed forces work for the health and safety of both animals and humans, notes the AVMA, serving to keep food supplies safe, provide care to military working dogs and to provide humanitarian assistance.
PETS ON THE WEB
According to the Iguana Pages
(www.baskingspot.com/iguanas) a million baby iguanas are imported to the United States every year –- and most of them die very soon after. The site doesn't offer a source for this shocking number, so I don't know how accurate it is, but it's absolutely true that many, if not most, baby iguanas suffer and die for lack of proper care.
In addition to offering good information on how to take care of these high-maintenance pets, the site talks about the sorts of mistakes people make that lead to the early death of most pet iguanas. One of the biggest reasons: Iguanas get big. If you're not prepared for a pet that will reach 5 to 6 feet in length, then please don't get one.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We've grown tired of opening the door for our cat, so we put in a cat door. How can we teach him to use it? -- W.H., via e-mail
A: After you install your cat door, just leave it be for a week or so until your cat takes its presence for granted. Always remember that cats aren't keen on change.
To teach him to use the door, tape the flap up securely for a few days so that he comes to appreciate the fact that he can conveniently come and go on his own schedule through this magic portal. (And I do mean securely. If your cat gets clobbered by a falling flap, it will take a long time to coax him near it again.)
Then put the flap down and put a little butter or margarine on the bottom edge of the flap and encourage him with tasty treats and praise from the other side. You can also drag toys on a string through, encouraging him to chase them.
Repeat these lessons in very short intervals over the course of several days, and your cat will get the hang of it, sure enough.
Q: I have an albino cockatiel. How can I tell if the bird is a boy or a girl? -- A.R., via e-mail
A: Although gender can be determined by markings in many varieties of cockatiels, that's not true in the case of the whiteface lutinos (commonly known as albinos). That's because there are no markings to provide the clues.
You'll need the help of an avian veterinarian to solve this mystery. He'll draw a blood sample, and the laboratory will get the answer you want from the bird's DNA.
Q: About three years ago, we bought a pair of budgies for my daughter, who isn't interested in them anymore. The birds were scared being handled from the first, and now we pretty much leave them be. Their cage is always kept clean, of course, but they seem to want nothing to do with us.
I feel vaguely guilty about this, and wonder if they are happy. They look in fine feather, and seem to be happy with each other. Is there something else I should do for them? -- J.F., via e-mail
A: A well-socialized budgie is a marvelous pet, sweet and affectionate. My "Birds for Dummies" co-author, avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer, is always championing these birds, who are among the best talkers around! Sadly, the pet potential of most budgies is never fully explored. Like many small and relatively inexpensive pets, budgies are often purchased for children, and neglected not too long after the novelty wears off.
You've done better for your birds than many people have: They have a home, they have each other and their basic needs are being met. Don't feel guilty!
Still, it wouldn't hurt to try to do better. Aside from the socializing (which they may not like), I'd suggest some environmental enrichment for your budgies. The cages that are matched to birds at pet-supply stores are usually at least one size too small. The more space to explore, the better, especially for a cage-bound bird.
In addition to the extra space, make sure they have toys to play with, and lots of fresh foods to eat. Variety is important when it comes to food, not just for the nutritional value of vegetables, fruits, bread, scrambled eggs, pasta and more, but also because different shapes, colors, tastes and textures help with boredom. Budgies are parrots, and like their larger relatives should not be kept on an all-seed diet. A good pelleted diet supplemented by fresh "people food" is the best choice.
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 email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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