Universal Press Syndicate
Here's a riddle for you: How is it that cats are the most popular pets and yet more households have dogs? The answer: Many households with dogs have only one, while cat lovers prefer their pets in multiples.
Problem is, while dogs truly do love the company of their own species as well as ours, many cats would prefer to be "only children." That means adding a second cat can be a difficult operation, with many pitfalls along the way. But most cats will eventually adapt to the change, and for some, the addition of a companion is a wonderful idea.
Successful introductions require laying the groundwork before you bring a second cat home. Your current cat and your new one should be spayed or neutered to reduce hormone-related behavior challenges. Your new pet will also need a visit to the veterinarian before coming home, to be sure he's not bringing home parasites and contagious diseases that can put your established pet at risk.
Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, toys, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Then, start the introductions by pushing no introduction at all.
Bring the new cat home in a carrier and set the pet in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged pet on his own, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. Let your resident cat explore awhile and then put him on the other side of the door and close it. When the new cat is alone with you in the room, open the carrier door. Leave the new cat alone in the room with the door closed, and let him choose to explore in his own way and time.
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. 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.
As the days go by, you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. If they're willing, feed them in ever-closer proximity, taking your cue from the cats as to how quickly to proceed.
Some cats will always maintain their own territories within the house -- I've known pairs who happily maintained a one upstairs/one downstairs arrangement for life -- while others will happily share everything from litter boxes to food dishes. Let the cats figure it out, and don't force them to share if they don't want to. Some cats will always need separate litter boxes, scratching posts, bowls and toys -- and providing them is a small investment if it keeps the peace.
Siblings without rivalry
Many people adopt a pair of littermates, and the two kittens grow up with a tight bond that's a pleasure to observe. But when two bonded adult cats end up at homeless shelters, their chances for being adopted together -- or at all -- are very small indeed.
And that's a real shame, because for anyone who wants a pair of cats, adopting two adults who already know and like each other is the best way to go. No stressful introductions, no kitten training. Instant family! Plus, you'll definitely be giving two deserving pets a second chance at a happy life together.
When you visit a shelter or contact a rescue group, tell them you're interested in adopting a bonded pair of adult cats, if at all possible. It just feels good to take such loving pets home, knowing you've helped to keep a family together.
Table scraps land dog in hospital
Q: Our 6-year-old cockapoo survived a bout of pancreatitis over the holidays. We wish we knew beforehand that giving her all the trimmings from the Christmas family gathering could have killed her. We never had any problem before. I guess that old "no table scraps" warning really is a good one. Could you spread the word? -- P.W., via e-mail
A: I know I'm dating myself, but I remember when leftovers from restaurant meals were packed into foil bags with a picture of a dog on them, not Styrofoam containers. Doggie bags they really were, since many of the goodies went straight home to the pets.
In my childhood as an Idaho farm boy, it was expected that the pets would get a juicy steak bone from Sunday dinner, the more fat the better. We also gave them such "delicacies" as chicken or turkey skin, splintery poultry bones and, the mother of all goodies, a greasy, salty ham bone.
Veterinarians these days are very aware that the contents of a doggie bag often represented a genuine danger to pets rather than a tasty treat. Far from being a special gift to our beloved pets, fat-laden leftovers and sharp bones pose a threat to their health, causing illnesses such as pancreatitis, accidents such as a perforated intestine, and even death.
The containers may have changed, but the attitude hasn't. While lean meats and raw vegetables (such as baby carrots) are healthy treats for any dog, the old doggie bag staples (such as bones and the fat trimmed off a steak) need to be strictly off-limits to pets.
If you do give meat or poultry to your dog or cat as an occasional treat, trim it carefully to remove the fat as well as the skin, which is a hiding place for more fat. Even if you're lucky enough that your pet doesn't end up with acute pancreatitis (a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas), a perforated intestine, severe gastroenteritis (aka a big bellyache) or relatively mild cases of vomiting or diarrhea, the fat certainly adds calories most dogs today don't need. Many breeds are especially prone to obesity, including the Labrador retriever, Cairn terrier, cocker spaniel, dachshund, Shetland sheepdog, basset hound, pug or beagle, and mixes of these breeds (hello, puggles!).
So dump the scraps and watch the weight. Ask your veterinarian for guidance when it comes to what your pet should and should not be eating. -- Dr. Marty Becker
A warning for RVers
Q: Would you please pass along the potential danger to pets in RVs with slide-outs? We read about a woman who crushed one of her cats, and that got us to worrying. Sure enough, in checking out our new unit on my hands and knees, I found five places in the slide-out where a small cat or dog could get wedged in and hurt.
All RVers need to be aware of this and need to keep their pets in crates until the slide-out is fully set up. -- L.S., via e-mail
A: A few years ago I spent a winter in a beach house on the Florida panhandle, and I met many RVers and their pets. These were "snowbird" pets -- cats and small dogs, mostly, and even a couple of birds who seemed to enjoy traveling as much as their people did.
Of course, responsibility for a pet's safety always falls to the owner. Not being an RVer myself -- at least not yet -- I wouldn't have thought to warn about this potential hazard. I appreciate your doing so, and I'm sure you've saved a life or two. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Special care for senior cats
Cats should be considered "senior" at 8 years old whether they're showing signs of aging or not. At this stage, it's important to step up the preventive veterinary care to be sure to catch any little problem before it becomes a major health crisis. This is especially important for cats who, unlike dogs, tend to hide signs of illness until they're very sick indeed.
Twice-yearly veterinary exams are recommended for older cats, and those health evaluations need to include diagnostic tests: typically a blood test and urinalysis, as well as a testing of thyroid function and a test for the presence of heartworms. While these tests do add to the cost of caring for a cat, they are the only way to catch and treat early such serious health problems as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney failure. These tests also help formulate necessary changes in your cat's diet as he ages.
Depending on the findings, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to correctly diagnose and treat additional disease.
Another essential part of caring for an aging cat is to be sure your pet's mouth isn't being ignored. Your cat's veterinary examination should include a dental exam, followed by dental cleaning or other procedures under anesthesia as required. At-home dental care that complements what your veterinarian provides -- ask your veterinarian for advice -- will help keep your cat's mouth free of disease and pain.
Early detection means early intervention. Don't neglect your senior cat's health needs when he needs you most. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS ON THE WEB
Pick the cutest picture of all
Tough day at the office? Take a break by visiting the Kitten War (kittenwar.com) or Puppy War (puppywar.com) Web sites. A furry twist on sites that let you rate a person's looks, Kitten War and Puppy War let you enjoy looking at and voting on adorable pets without a chance of hurting any feelings, at least of the four-legged participants. (The owners might get a tad put out if a beloved pet gets voted down enough.)
The Web sites put up one picture against another, you pick a favorite, the votes are shown, and you get to see two more pictures. It continues until your mouse hand wears out -- or your boss tells you to get back to work. You can also add your own pet pictures to the mix for others to vote on. -- Gina Spadafori
Neutering the ultimate in saving money, lives
What if there were a simple, safe, surefire solution to preventing the death of millions of pets every year? And, at the same time, what if this solution contributed to your own pet's chances of leading a longer, healthier and happier life?
And if that weren't already enough: How about a magic bullet that will make your pet more loving, affectionate and better-behaved?
This year, millions of pet owners will achieve all of this and more by having their beloved female pets spayed or male pets neutered. I know you think you've heard it all before, but neutering is genuinely important to your pet and to all pets.
Neutered pets can't reproduce and also have far fewer behavioral and medical problems than pets left intact. From a behavioral standpoint, early neutering will prevent the aggressiveness, territory-marking, fighting and roaming of both dogs and cats. Most dogs hit by cars or injured in fights are unneutered males who will travel the world and jump the highest fence to get to a female dog in heat. Female dogs still equipped with reproductive plumbing face a common infection of the uterus called pyometra, which is a surgical emergency and a life-threatening condition.
A cat being out on the prowl can result in every kind of trauma known -- they don't call it a cat fight for nothing! And cat fighting almost guarantees their exposure to contagious and mostly fatal diseases.
Neutered pets have a greatly reduced incidence of cancer, along with a reduced incidence of urinary tract disease. Early spay/neuter helps prevent prostate disease in male dogs and decreases the chances of your female pet getting mammary cancer down to almost zero.
If you love pets as much we veterinarians do, neuter your pets, and encourage your friends and family members to do the same. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Vet vs. 'Net
According to a 2004 survey of pet lovers, more people are turning to the Internet for information on pet care -- and fewer to their veterinarians. Information sources:
1998 2000 2002 2004
Veterinarian 72 percent 70 percent 68 percent 61 percent
Internet 5 percent 15 percent 14 percent 19 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Teach your puppy to fetch
Retrieving games are great fun and great exercise. Although not all dogs will take to retrieving, it's possible to teach many this useful behavior.
Start with a hungry dog, a few of his favorite possessions and a bag of treats. Bounce, squeak and act playful to initiate the game. Throw a prized possession a few feet away. If your dog turns, follows the throw with his eyes or steps toward the object, praise him enthusiastically.
If your dog picks up the object, praise him more. If he brings it to you, do not take it away in these learning stages. Instead, give a back rub, praise or a treat and then throw something else. Keep sessions short and fun as your dog catches on.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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