In a convincing show of dominance that would make even the Republican Party drool with envy, the Labrador retriever is America's top dog for the 15th consecutive year.
Based on just-released American Kennel Club registration statistics for 2004, Labradors accounted for almost one in six of all registrations among the organization's 154 recognized breeds. In all, 146,692 Labs were registered, almost three times as many as the No. 2 breed, the golden retriever, which numbered 52,550 in 2004.
Any way you look at it, that's a lot of Labradors. And that doesn't even count those dogs eligible for AKC registration whose owners never bothered to send in the forms, or Labs registered with other organizations, or those purebred but not papered. And it certainly doesn't take into account the Lab mixes so common in any shelter, or this year's hot mixed breed, the Labradoodle.
Is the Labrador really that perfect a dog, so good a fit in so many kinds of families? While the Lab's probably not all that much better a family dog than some of the lesser-known but equally family-friendly breeds around, it's certainly true Labradors have a lot to offer.
Once they get over their rambunctious and often destructive adolescence (which can last for the first couple of years, or more), Labradors settle into a wonderful, easygoing adulthood. While not well-suited to either an isolated or sedentary life, the Lab fits in with most other situations, and is happiest in an active home with children. The breed's easy-care coat needs little in the way of brushing.
Although not bred to be especially protective, the Labrador's size alone will provide some degree of security, and few criminals will care to guess if the breed's big-dog bark is a warning or a welcome.
On the down side, Labradors are happy eaters, and so are prone to obesity especially in situations where exercise is rare. Because of their incredible popularity, Labs have attracted the interest of clueless and careless breeders, who produce animals without regard to health or temperament concerns. When buying a puppy, it's essential to find a reputable breeder who screens all breeding stock for such painful and expensive health problems as hip dysplasia.
These caveats aside, there's good reason for the Labrador's hold on America's dog-loving heart, and no sign of the love affair ending any time soon.
Or is there?
Times change, and so do fashions, even in dogs. Anyone with the idea that popularity or politics never change might want to consider the fact that the genial, lovable Lab will have to put in another couple of decades at No. 1 to top the poodle's run from the late '50s until the Labrador took over.
These days, the best the poodle could manage is eighth place -- and that's for all three sizes combined.
City by city
While the Labrador retriever topped registration numbers in most cities, there are a couple of places where the breed didn't rank No. 1. In Miami, the German shepherd is top dog, while in New York City, the more reasonably urban-sized dachshund is No. 1.
More variety could be found in the No. 2 slot, with the Yorkshire terrier second-most popular behind the Labrador in Detroit, Washington, D.C., Tampa, Fla., Las Vegas and Houston.
A complete ranking of all 154 American Kennel Club breeds for 2004 can be found on the organization's Web site, www.akc.org.
1. Labrador retriever
2. Golden retriever
3. German shepherd
5. Yorkshire terrier
9. Shih Tzu
11. Miniature schnauzer
15. Cocker spaniel
17. Boston terrier
18. Shetland sheepdog
20. German shorthaired pointer
21. Miniature pinscher
22. Doberman pinscher
23. Pembroke Welsh corgi
24. Siberian husky
25. Basset hound
Cat spraying is not a litter-box problem
Q: Our cat has suddenly started spraying urine on the furniture. We've squirted him, spanked him and yelled at him, but it doesn't help. He's still using the litter box, just not all the time. My husband says if it doesn't stop, the cat goes out. Can you help? -- P.F., via the Internet
A: The application of urine to mark territory is different from the release of urine to eliminate waste from the body. The strategies for addressing spraying are different from those that you use in getting a cat to use a litter box.
That said, the first step is exactly the same: Take your cat in to see his veterinarian to make sure there isn't some sort of health issue triggering this annoying change in behavior. Your veterinarian's office is the place to start with behavior problems of any kind, especially when they come on suddenly in previously well-mannered pets.
Although both male and female cats may spray, unneutered males are the biggest offenders. You didn't mention if your cat is neutered, but if he isn't, he should be. Neutering takes care of the problem in the majority of cases if done before sexual maturity is attained. While neutering isn't quite as effective on adult cats who start spraying, it's worthwhile to alter older spraying cats as well.
For those cats who don't respond to neutering, environmental stresses -- such as a new person or pet in the house or a neighbor's cat in the yard -- may be triggering the spraying. Anti-anxiety drugs may help (talk to your veterinarian), as can cleaning sprayed areas thoroughly and covering them with foil to discourage fresh marking. (Cats dislike anything involving foil, and the sound of urine hitting it really annoys them.) There are also some pheromone-based aerosol products that may help calm your cat and reduce the urge to spray.
Don't punish your cat for spraying, even if you catch him in the act. Doing so makes him even more anxious and more likely to mark. Punishment is never a good strategy when trying to solve behavior problems in cats.
Q: I want other cat lovers to learn from my experience, and want to ask your help in doing so. A couple of months ago my cat lost interest in eating. She was not by any measure a slender cat, so I thought it wasn't that big a deal at first. By the time I got her to the vet's, though, she was gravely ill and I lost her. I feel so guilty for not getting her help sooner. The veterinarian said she died of a liver problem that's a problem in fat cats. Will you please caution others about this? I am utterly heartbroken. -- S.R., via e-mail
A: I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you wouldn't have delayed care for your cat if you knew the situation was as serious as it turned out to be, so please don't beat yourself up for this.
I'm guessing your cat died of feline hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. The condition is triggered when a cat stops eating for any reason, pushing the cat into a downward spiral. She doesn't eat, which makes her feel crummy, so she won't eat and so on, until she's too ill to be saved. The reason fat cats are at greater risk is because their livers are too choked with fat to function properly.
Feline hepatic lipidosis is one of the reasons why it's a good idea to work with your veterinarian when trying to slim down a fat cat, since the job needs to be done slowly and carefully.
The bottom line: Any cat who doesn't eat for more than 48 hours needs prompt veterinary care, especially if the animal is overweight.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Beware of signs that lead to lawsuits
My "Beware of Dog" signs came down years ago, after I interviewed an attorney who made a good piece of his living suing on behalf of dog-bite victims.
Keeping a dog who is known to be vicious is a far more serious issue than having one who has never been a problem before. Putting up a "Beware of Dog" sign, the attorney said, could arguably be an indication that a dog's owners knew he was a problem.
I've never shared my life with a dog who posed a threat to anything other than a full food dish. I posted my yard just to keep people out of it, as much to protect my dogs from open gates as anything else. It was a few years before someone came up with the perfect product to replace those "Beware of Dog" signs: Attractive metal plates that simply say "Dog in Yard."
I ordered them immediately and put them up on the outside of my fences. They provide all the protection my dogs need without suggesting my pets are anything but friendly.
The "Dog in Yard" signs, available in brown, blue or green with contrasting lettering, are $14.95 each from The Original Pet Postings, www.bigdoorproducts.com or 1-847-835-1106.
Meds for pets? Check with vet
While most people are aware that prescription drugs need to be kept safely away from pets, fewer seem to know that common over-the-counter medications can be just as dangerous.
The Animal Poison Control Center has issued a warning on medications containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient that can be found in over-the-counter medications intended to provide relief for cold, sinus and allergy symptoms. The APCC warns that a single pill could have a noticeable effect on a small dog, and three tablets could be fatal.
The warning is a good reason to remember that all medications -- prescription, over-the-counter and herbal -- should be stored where pets cannot get to them, and should never be given to any animal without checking with your veterinarian first.
If your pet gets into any medication by accident, get hold of a veterinarian immediately. A wait-and-see approach is never a good idea, and it might cost your pet his life.
(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.)
Enjoy the exotic, lovely and rare at a cat show
You don't need to know the difference between a Siamese and a Burmese to enjoy a trip to a cat show. Here are a few tips to make the day more enjoyable:
-- Wear comfortable, casual clothes with a little flexibility. Show halls are notorious for being too hot or too cold, no matter the outside temperature. Wear something light and carry a sweater, and you're covered either way. Carry a backpack or big purse, since you're sure to run across pet-food freebies or buy toys to take home to your cat.
-- Be aware of the demands on exhibitors. Your first question to any exhibitor should be: "Is this a good time to ask a few questions about your cats?" They'll let you know, and if it's not, they can tell you when will be. Never bother an exhibitor who has a cat in her arms -- she's almost certainly headed to or coming from the judging ring. And step aside: Cat-show etiquette, and common sense, demands that a person carrying a cat has the right-of-way.
-- Be respectful of the health and safety of the cats. Breeders are very concerned -- and rightly so -- about the spread of disease. So the only people who touch any cats at a show are the people who brought them and the judges, who are careful to sanitize their hands and the judging platform between each cat they handle.
-- Watch at least one class being judged. Cat-show judges often discuss the good and not-so-good points of each animal as they judge, and many are not only articulate and knowledgeable, but witty as well.
Best of all, a cat show is a special opportunity to see dozens of beautifully groomed cats -- not only of the more common breeds, but also of some of the rarest in the world.
ON THE WEB
All hamsters, all the time
The Hamsters Galore Web site (http://groups.msn.com/hamstersgalore) is home to hamster fanatics who happily share information and stories with one another.
The site is packed with countless choices from the silly to the practical. On the silly side: a section on what hamsters would say if they could talk, where speculation centers mostly on demanding choice bits of favorite foods. More practical offerings include tips on taming nippy hamsters, which foods and toys are safe, and how to find a good veterinarian.
From reading the posts, it's pretty clear that a lot of the visitors to Hamsters Galore are children who are doing their best with their very first pet. Such posts add a gentle sweetness to the site, especially in the poetry section, where the love of these little pets leads to some creative efforts powered by true affection and, sometimes, the pain of first loss.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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