Here's a riddle for you: How is it that more families have dogs than have cats, but cats outnumber dogs as pets?
The answer: Many families have more than one cat.
According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 40.6 percent of U.S. households in 2002 reported having at least one dog, while cats ruled in 35.3 percent of households. (Some families of course, have both.) But cats were by far the most popular pet, according to the same trade group, which reported 2002 figures of 77.7 million pet cats to 65 million pet dogs.
Problem is, in a lot of those multi-feline families, relations between cats are a bit strained. And when cats aren't happy, nobody's happy. The noise of cats grumbling threats at each other or engaging in frequent rumbles can get on one's nerves and even mean trips to the veterinarian. And the litter-box problems that can be a part of such turf wars can turn an entire house into a toilet.
Living with more than one cat doesn't have to be so contentious. The trick to domestic harmony for cohabiting felines is to introduce -- or reintroduce -- them slowly and carefully.
If you don't have a cat yet and know you'll eventually want two, it's easiest to adopt two kittens at the same time. Kittens don't have the sense of territory that grown cats have and will settle down together into a new home nicely. Second-best: Adopt two adult cats at the same time, so neither has a head start on the other when it comes to claiming territory.
But even a solitary adult cat can learn to enjoy living with a companion. Since the worst territorial spats are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful co-existence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned.
Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Take your new cat to your veterinarian first, to be checked for parasites such as ear mites and contagious diseases such as feline leukemia. When you're sure your new pet is healthy, the introductions can begin.
Bring the cat home in a carrier and set him in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. When the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and let him out of the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Just leave the carrier door open and the cat alone.
Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Above all: Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares.
Eventually you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. And slowly feed them in ever-closer proximity.
If you already have two cats who don't get along, treat them as if they've both just arrived. Give them their each their own quarters and let them slowly work out their territorial disputes. But do remember: Some cats will never get along. For these, separate quarters such as one upstairs, one downstairs, may need to become a permanent arrangement.
One of the most common points of conflict in multi-cat households is over the litter box. Some cats don't like to share, and that may force other cats to avoid the litter box altogether.
The rule of thumb behaviorists use: one box per cat, plus one.
Place the litter boxes in different parts of the house, and arrange each so a cat can feel secure but also keep an eye on his surroundings. No one likes to be ambushed while on the john! And don't forget the first rule of litter-box management: Keep 'em clean.
If it sounds like a lot of trouble, consider this: The one sure loser in any litter-box war is the person who cleans up the messes.
Preventive care can keep teeth healthy
Q: My 5-year-old Pomeranian has had three teeth cleanings so far, as insisted on by her vet. I am afraid of having my dog put under anesthesia, but the vet says leaving her teeth alone can cause long-term problems. She eats dry food, which is supposed to help with plaque buildup. It doesn't seem to help. I can't believe how fast her teeth gunk up. Why is this such a problem with her? -- H.O., via e-mail
A: As a general rule, the smaller the dog, the faster the plaque buildup. For most dogs and cats, regular dental cleanings (as often as twice a year in some cases) are as important to pets' long-term health as they are to ours. Keeping teeth in good health prevents bad breath, preserves teeth into old age, and protects the pet's organs from the constant shower of bacteria caused by rotting teeth and gums. Over the course of a lifetime, good dental health will add significantly to your pet's quality of life and perhaps even extend her lifespan.
Many pet owners shy away from dental work for their pets for the very reason you do: They're worried about losing their companion to anesthesia. In recent years, however, the use of safer anesthetic agents has become nearly universal, making dental work advisable even for older dogs and cats. In short: The long-term risk of ignoring your pet's teeth is now greater than the short-term risk of anesthesia.
You can extend the time between cleanings, however, by taking on some of responsibility for keeping your pet's teeth clean.
Start your pet's dental health regimen with a trip to your veterinarian, who should check your pet's mouth, teeth and gums. Then he or she can make recommendations based on what is found. For many pets, that'll mean a complete dental cleaning under anesthesia, possibly some periodontal work, and even the removal of broken or rotting teeth.
After the problems are treated, at-home care can keep things in good shape. Here are the basics for both dogs and cats:
-- Brush or wipe the teeth regularly. Use a toothpaste designed for pets a couple of times a week at least, although daily is better.
A children's soft toothbrush works well, as does one made especially for pets. You can also use a brush that fits over your fingertip, or plain gauze wrapped around your finger.
-- Feed pets dry food and offer teeth-cleaning toys. Dry food does help, but it must be used in combination with regular brushing and with toys that help wipe the teeth. Soft chewies or a rope toy are best. Avoid chews that are rock-hard or are prone to breaking into sharp pieces, as these can break teeth or slice gums.
Q: We have just adopted our fifth retired racing greyhound. We discovered these marvelous dogs more than 20 years ago and will never be without one. (We have lost dogs to health problems and old age, and with the recent addition we have two.)
People just can't imagine how quiet, calm and gentle these dogs are. Even the males, who can be quite large, seem to take up no space at all. I want to ask you to encourage others to look into retired racers. They'll be happy they did! -- V.R., via e-mail
A: I love making the case for greyhounds. They're everything you say they are, and they always seem to be aware of how lucky they are to be in a loving home.
In adopting one, you need to work with a reputable rescue organization that'll match the dog with your household. One of the biggest problems: Some greyhounds -- but not all -- don't mix safely with cats.
A good place to start researching is the Greyhound Project Web site (www.adopt-a-greyhound.org). You'll find lots of information pro and con, as well as links to regional rescue groups.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Two million happy endings for adoption program
When you're the dominant player in your industry, you don't really have to make that much effort to be nice. Which is why PetsMart deserves a big helping of respect for not selling dogs and cats in its stores, and instead making prime retail space available for community-based pet-rescue groups. The company says more than 2,700 non-profit groups use the in-store adoption spaces in 700 PetsMart locations, and in mid-October the chain-wide program marked its 2 millionth pet adoption.
The lucky animal was a 3-year-old beagle mix named Louie, who was adopted by the Armstrong family at the O'Fallon, Ill., store.
Now, if only PetsMart would take the lead once more and stop selling other pets in its stores. By making relatively inexpensive small pets such as rats, rabbits and budgies available, PetsMart is encouraging impulse purchases, especially by parents giving in to the wheedling of their children.
There are rescue and shelter groups finding new homes for almost every kind of pet imaginable. I urge PetsMart to take its notable accomplishments in helping homeless pets once step further by replacing all live-animals sales with in-store adoption outreach.
ON THE WEB
Candidates all agree: Pets are wonderful
The Presidential Pet Museum's Web site (www.presidentialpetmuseum.com) is the place to go for a fairly comprehensive list of all presidential animals, from the hounds and horses of George Washington to the dog and cats of George W. Bush. The animals kept by presidential families started out being more purposeful than companionable, with horses and milk cows commonplace.
By the turn of the last century, though, animals were welcomed just for keeping the president and his family company. Theodore Roosevelt brought in the new era with eight dogs and cats and a pack of presidential guinea pigs. But it fell to another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, to bring the presidential pet into the political spotlight. His dog, Fala, is still arguably the best-known and most-loved White House pet in history. You'll find Fala's picture and much more on the Presidential Pet Museum's site, which is both attractive and easy to navigate.
Rabbits would really rather use a litter box
Recently, I was talking rabbits with a person who'd had them as a child. Hers were a series of outdoor pets who spent their lives on the wire flooring of an elevated hutch not 3 feet square.
Think about it: Spending your entire life on wire, barely able to move, much less to run the way rabbits are born to. Instead of considering how miserable a life this must have been for her childhood pets, she wondered how I could stand having my rabbit as an indoor pet.
"My memory of the rabbits, mostly, is that they smelled bad," she said.
I haven't noticed it. But then, my house rabbit Turbo has a large two-story cage with carpet on the top floor and solid flooring below. He has the run of the house when I'm home to monitor him, and he loves not only to run but also to leap into the air with joy, kicking his legs out sideways in a move that rabbit lovers call "a binky."
He doesn't stink, and he doesn't leave messes around the house. The reason? He has a litter box.
Rabbit litter boxes are a little different from those set up for cats. You don't scoop, but rather toss the entire contents regularly, clean the box and refill. (Unlike the waste of carnivores like cats, rabbit waste is a super-charged addition to any compost pile.)
You also need to be careful about your litter -- no clumping, clay or corn-based fillers. Since rabbits may munch box contents, you need to use one of the brands made of paper. Using a deep box (Turbo's is a dishpan), put a couple of inches of paper-pellet litter in the bottom, then cover with 3 to 4 inches of hay.
Best yet: no smell. The pellets absorb the urine, and the box allows the rabbit to keep himself and his surroundings clean.
True grit: Your bird doesn't need it
Avian veterinarians no longer recommend offering grit to most pet birds. The substance, made of finely ground rock, is now thought to have a negative impact on bird health, removing vitamins from the digestive system and causing potentially life-threatening blockages.
That said, there are some exceptions to the rule. Canaries and other finches should be allowed a couple of grains every couple of months. Parrots (including budgies and cockatiels) should not be offered grit at all.
Outdated advice on bird care is everywhere. To make sure you have the latest information, find a veterinarian who's a board-certified avian specialist, or who takes the extra time to stay current on avian care. You can find such a veterinarian through the Association of Avian Veterinarians (www.aav.org).
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600