With kitten season in full swing and competition for good homes never keener, summer is the worst time to be a homeless adult cat.
But no matter the challenges, it seems we animal lovers always have or know of a cat who needs a new home. Perhaps a friend or relative has passed on, leaving a cat behind. Or maybe the neighbors moved and didn't care enough to take the cat with them -- a situation that's sadly more common than those of us who care about animals can imagine. Or maybe a stray cat just turned up, in the way that stray cats always do.
While adult cats can be very hard to place, it's not impossible to find a good home. Be patient and persistent, and follow these guidelines:
-- Spread the news. Make up fliers with an adorable picture and clever description, take out an ad in your newspaper, and use the Internet to spread the word. Post the fliers everywhere you can: bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office. Mention the cat to everyone you know, in person or by e-mail, and ask everyone to spread the word further. Contact rescue groups and let them know you're fostering a nice cat -- sometimes they'll post the information for you on Web sites such as petfinder.com.
-- Ask a price. Asking for money stops those who collect "free to good home" animals for such cruel purposes as the training of fighting dogs. Because a lot of people believe cats and kittens should be "free," don't charge for the cat herself. Instead, bring her preventive care needs up to date -- examination, vaccinations, neutering -- and then charge a small fee to offset a portion of those expenses. Explain that it's a convenience for the prospective owner, who'll be getting a cat that's veterinarian-certified to be in good health. It's a bargain for the adopter and a safety measure for the cat.
-- Don't lie about the pet's problems or why she's being placed. Although finding a new home for a pet with problems takes longer, you can usually still do so. Some people love taking in pets who have "sob stories" attached to them, or who are physically or behaviorally challenged. But the person who gets such a pet without warning is likely to bring her back, give her away or dump her.
-- Look for someone who understands that a pet is a commitment. Ask prospective adopters whether they've had pets before and what happened to them, and ask for a veterinary reference. The person who has had a lot of pets who have disappeared, died young or been given away is probably not your best choice. Likewise, the person who has had pets in the past but doesn't know a veterinarian isn't likely to use one in the future.
If you cannot find her a new home after trying for as long as you can, take the cat to a shelter or arrange for her to go to a rescue group so she can get another chance at being chosen by someone who'll care for her. (Donations to these groups, when you give them an animal, help to keep them going.) If you can, keep looking on your own until kitten season winds down in the fall, to better her odds of catching someone's eye in what can be a crowded shelter.
Above all, please don't dump the cat to fend for herself. Never forget that the pet is counting on you to find her a home where she'll be taken care of for the rest of her life. If you take on that responsibility, you must see it through.
What did you do on your vacation?
Traveling with pets has never been more popular. With choices from "ruffing it" at campgrounds to getting pampered at luxury resort hotels, pets and the people who love them are finding the welcome mat out in more places than ever before.
Did you take your pet on your summer vacation? We want to hear about it and see your vacation pictures. Did you head for the mountains or the beach? Did your pet influence or dictate your travel plans? Did you run into any problems? What are your best tips for safe and easy traveling? What's your best pet-travel experience?
Send your stories and images (jpegs only, please) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll share them in upcoming Pet Connections.
Explaining risks to pregnant women
Q: May I expand on your explanation of the risks to pregnant (or hope-to-be pregnant) women who are worried about keeping their cats because of toxoplasmosis?
The disease is a serious threat to unborn children if a woman contracts the disease during her pregnancy. However, a non-pregnant woman who contracts the disease will usually have no symptoms at all. She then is no longer at risk for complications if she later becomes pregnant. For women who love cats and who have lived with cats for many years, toxoplasmosis may not be an issue because they have already been exposed to the parasite, so they cannot develop active toxoplasmosis anymore.
In my opinion, it would be good advice to tell any woman who was hoping to become pregnant to ask her doctor for a toxoplasmosis antibody level to be run on her blood. If she already has had the disease, there is no risk of toxoplasmosis to her baby. (Reading between the lines: She can change the litter box, but maybe she won't want her partner to know that!)
If the woman has not had the disease, not only should she avoid changing cat litter boxes, she should also wear gloves while working outside in the garden because there can be cat feces in the flowerbed, even if she does not own a cat herself. -- Faith C. Flower, DVM, Albuquerque, N.M.
A: Thanks for explaining more about toxoplasmosis and the risks to women who are (or hope to become) pregnant. You've put the risks in proper perspective and have suggested ways to minimize them further. (One more thing that's important to remember: It's also possible to come in contact with the parasite through unsafe handling of raw or undercooked meat.) It's a shame when well-meaning friends and relatives -- and even some physicians -- insist that a cat needs to go when a woman is trying to conceive or is pregnant.
The Humane Society of the United States has been running an education campaign on this issue, targeting prospective parents and physicians. The information can be found on the group's Web site (HSUS.org, and then enter "toxoplasmosis" in the search field). The information is also available in a free brochure "Your Baby & Your Pet." To receive a copy, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to HSUS, BabyPet eNews, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037.
Q: I enjoy your column, but I have a disturbing thought. In your recent column on traveling with dogs, there was a photo of a gentleman putting his large dog into an airline crate in the back of a sports-utility vehicle.
You need to tell people that air conditioning cannot travel through two rows of seats and into a nearly completely closed crate. I have observed owners putting dogs in the back of an SUV like this when it's 100 degrees, meaning the temperature inside the vehicle is about 140 degrees.
We know how long it takes to cool off the front seat with the air conditioning blowing full blast in our faces. Let's be honest: It is unsafe to put the dog in the back of an SUV or minivan without cooling down the vehicle first. -- M.Z., via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right about the importance of checking the temperature in the SUV or minivan, and making sure the area where the pet is riding isn't too hot. I recommend that people consider buying fans designed to clip onto the doors of airline crates, as well as using cooling pads or reusable ice packs wrapped in towels into the crate. Whatever it takes to keep dogs safe and cool!
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Safe pet-handling starts with soap
Because most, if not all, reptiles carry salmonella in their digestive tracks, these pets are generally not recommended for homes with children under 5 or with family members whose immune systems are compromised. For other homes, the risks can be greatly reduced by properly handling these pets. The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians suggests these basic safety precautions:
-- Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling reptiles or after cleaning reptile enclosures.
-- Limit the part of your home that your reptile is allowed to be in, and wash your hands after being in that area.
-- Never allow reptiles in areas of the home where food is prepared. Don't share food or drink with reptiles, and don't eat, drink or smoke while handling them. Don't kiss these pets, no matter how cute you think they are.
-- Do not put reptiles into bathtubs or sinks. Buy a separate tub for bathing these pets. Pour the water down the toilet, and do not use sinks or bathtubs to clean the reptile bathing tub -- or any reptile housing or gear.
-- Supervise older children to be sure they don't touch the pets and then put their fingers in their mouths. Make sure thorough hand-washing follows each exposure to these pets.
The ARAV stresses that the precautions do not mean reptiles shouldn't be kept as pets, but rather that by following basic common sense in handling them, the potential for human health problems can be kept to a minimum. For more information, visit the ARAV Web site (www.arav.org).
Many birds love a good soaking
Many of the birds we keep as pets are of species most comfortable in places that we would find intolerable: the steamy, hot rain forests of Central and South America. The dry air of human homes is thought to be a contributing factor to feather-picking, a frustrating syndrome that can drive birds to pluck themselves bald.
You don't have to turn your house into a sauna to add some moisture to your pet's life. Many birds enjoy being dampened by water from a spray bottle, or being offered the chance to take a bath in a shallow dish of clean water. Some parrot lovers take their birds right into the shower with them, placing them on special perches that attach to shower tiles or letting them stand on towels placed on ledges in the shower stall.
How often should birds get a drenching? There are no firm guidelines, but daily would be fine with many birds.
Finicky felines need to be watched, cajoled
Although some cats have never met a dish of food they didn't love, others are very picky about what they eat. Missing a meal now and then is quite normal and nothing to worry about. But the cat who flat-out stops eating or starts losing weight is in urgent need of veterinary attention.
Before you hit the panic button, though, be sure you're seeing the true picture of what, when and where your cat is eating.
If you leave out dry food all the time, your cat may be nibbling more than a dozen times throughout the day, thus never eating very much in any one observed sitting. If your cat has access to the outdoors, you need to consider that he may be getting meals from a kind neighbor, or may be stealing from another cat's dish at a home down the street. He might even be picking up some meals the old-fashioned way: By hunting them.
If you're sure you know the big picture on your cat and know he's not eating, or if he's lost more than a half-pound or so, you'll need a veterinarian's help to find out if your cat is sick. This is true even if your cat can stand to lose weight: The cat who suddenly stops eating or starts losing weight can be seriously at risk.
Some healthy cats are truly finicky, however, and it takes a little bit of work on your part to keep them eating.
One strategy is preventive in nature: Feeding them a wide range of foods, from kittenhood on, helps keep cats from insisting on one brand or variety. Other cats can be jollied out of finicky behavior with canned food, warmed up to be even more tempting.
(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.)
BY THE NUMBERS
Feline health problems
According to Veterinary Pet Insurance Company/DVM Insurance Agency, urinary-tract infections were by far the top reason for pet-insurance claims by cat lovers, accounting for nearly 7 percent of all veterinary bills submitted for reimbursement to the company last year. Other top feline maladies:
1. Urinary tract infections
2. Stomach upsets
3. Respiratory infections
4. Ear infections
5. Skin allergies
6. Eye infections
7. Wound infections
9. Gum disease
10. Kidney disease
PETS ON THE WEB
Help, hope for hard-luck Labradors
Breed rescue groups are always struggling to help the most animals on limited amounts of money, and that means making some difficult decisions from time to time. A single homeless stray who has been hit by a car and requires extensive surgery can eat up money that could have saved several healthy pets, leaving rescue groups in the difficult situation of sacrificing one pet so that others may live.
The LABMED Web site (www.labmed.org) seeks to change this sad reality, at least for homeless Labradors. The group raises money to fund medical care for those dogs who have a good chance at being an adoptable pet, if only their urgent health problems could be resolved. More than 800 Labrador and Lab mixes have been saved, and their stories on the LABMED site make for inspirational reading.
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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