Universal Press Syndicate
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, 41 percent of U.S. households recently reported having at least one dog, while cats ruled in 35 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 recent figures of 78 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 them, 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 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.
Feline diabetes can be treated
Q: My 6-year-old cat has been diagnosed with diabetes. The vet says I can give her shots, but I just don't know. Wouldn't it be kinder to put her to sleep? And what would happen if I did nothing? Could she get better on her own? -- P.S., via e-mail
A: For the diabetic cat, the levels of sugar in the blood -- glucose -- cannot be normalized without treatment. Although a cat may be able to go a few days without treatment and not get into a crisis, treatment should be looked upon as part of the cat's daily routine. Treatment almost always requires some dietary changes. And whether an individual cat will require oral therapy or insulin injections will vary from case to case.
For the owner, there are two implications: financial commitment and personal commitment. Once a cat's diabetes is well-regulated, maintenance is not that expensive, with costs that may include a special diet, oral medication, insulin and syringes.
For many people, the personal commitment seems more difficult than the financial one, but that, too, is not insurmountable. You'll need to pay close attention to your veterinarian's instructions about medication, diet and home monitoring.
Consistency is the key to keeping a diabetic cat healthy. The more you keep the medication, diet and activity the same from one day to the next, the easier it will be to keep your cat's blood sugar regulated.
Insulin injections always worry people the most. But cats seem to be more comfortable getting shots than their owners are about giving them. Honestly, though, it's just a learning process for you both.
If the idea of giving your cat regular injections is what's making you consider putting her to sleep, consider these points:
-- Insulin does not cause pain when it is injected.
-- The injections are made with very tiny needles that your cat hardly feels.
-- The injections are given just under the skin in areas in which it is almost impossible to cause damage to any vital organ.
Although diabetes is a diagnosis that may seem like a death sentence to many upset people with newly diagnosed cats, it doesn't need to be that way. Work with your veterinarian and give your cat a chance. You may be surprised at how well things work out.
By the way, you can find a lot of information and support on the Feline Diabetes Web site (felinediabetes.com), which was started by a physician after her own cat was diagnosed with diabetes. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: I can't imagine many people can say this these days, but I was raised on a dairy farm. We always let our barn cats drink fresh milk, and they loved it. Today my cat gets her milk pasteurized from the fridge, but she loves it just the same. But a friend recently told me that she read somewhere that cow's milk was bad for cats.
I just find that hard to believe. We never had a cat get sick on milk, and it isn't making mine sick now. What's the truth? -- J.P., via e-mail
A: No adult cat needs milk to survive, and some cats, like some humans, cannot handle milk without ending up with diarrhea. For those cats who can handle milk and like it, it's a fine treat and good source of protein.
If your cat isn't experiencing any stomach distress -- check the litter box for signs of diarrhea -- then it's perfectly safe to give her milk as a treat. Feel free to indulge her just as you have been. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Punishing pet will backfire
If you spare the rod, do you spoil the pet? Many people try to raise cats and dogs with the idea that a good spanking will teach the animal a lesson. But it just doesn't work that way. In fact, what physical punishment often teaches a pet is that people can't be trusted.
Because they don't use language as we do and can't understand delayed reactions to their behavior, pets who are physically punished tend to develop unstable personalities. They may become aloof, skittish, hand-shy or even aggressive (i.e., they may bite or scratch in self-defense before being hit).
For example, consider from a puppy's point of view what happens when he runs to you when called and puts his paws up on you when he arrives. You don't like him jumping up, so you yell, spank or knee him.
Instead of learning that he should always come when called, your puppy learns that when he does, he'll be punished. Better to reward him first for coming when called, and then use reward-based training to teach him that the second part of coming to you is keeping his feet on the floor or even sitting in front of you. In other words: It's all good.
(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.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a 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.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dogmobiles," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Little dogs need to be good, too
With small dogs so popular today, it's pretty common to run into some truly ill-mannered little beasts. It's not that small dogs are prone to bad behavior, mind you, but rather that the owners of small dogs tend to overlook behavior problems that would be absolutely intolerable in a 50-, 80- or 100-pound dog.
A big dog who can't walk nicely on a leash and snarls insults at other dogs isn't anything you'd want to share with the world: You'd train him, or you'd leave him at home. That's not the case with little dogs, however. An ill-mannered little dog's antics are not only tolerated, but also often encouraged by people who think their tiny terrors are adorable, no matter what.
Are you tolerant of your spoiled little brat of a dog? Wouldn't you rather have a dog that everyone else could enjoy being around, too?
While it might seem easier to ignore bad manners in a little dog, the fact is it's just not that hard to turn around a little tyrant. Little dogs are generally bright and easy to train, once their owners get the idea that training is not only desirable but also very possible.
Reward-based training works well with all dogs, and this is especially true of small ones, who tend to be too fragile and sensitive for punishment-based training.
Whatever you do, don't encourage behavior in your small dog that wouldn't be acceptable in a large one. Your dog's bratty behavior isn't appreciated by others, believe me. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
How many homeless?
Exact numbers are impossible to come by, since no one even knows how many shelters there are in the United States and Canada. But using a survey of 1,000 shelters in 1997 as a base, it's estimated that nearly 10 million animals a year are euthanized in shelters. While some animals entering shelters are not considered to be adoptable, many would be wonderful companions if only given a chance.
More shelter stats:
-- In 1997, roughly 64 percent of the total number of animals entering shelters were euthanized.
-- 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats entering animal shelters were euthanized.
-- 15 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats entering animal shelters were reunited with their owners.
-- 25 percent of dogs and 24 percent of cats entering animal shelters were adopted.
Source: American Humane Association (www.americanhumane.org) and the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (www.petpopulation.org).
Get collar on right
The choke collar is one of the most difficult pieces of training equipment to use properly, which is why in recent years I have discouraged its use. Newer products such as head halters and no-pull harnesses are easier to use and provide control with less strain on the dog.
One of the biggest problems with a choke collar is that people often put it on upside-down. Here's a how-to: With the dog sitting on your left, make a downward-facing "P" out of the collar, with the base of the "P" on your side. Then slip the collar over the dog's head. The moving end of the collar should go over the dog's neck, not under it.
If it's put on incorrectly, the collar will not release easily when the leash is slackened -- and that turns an already controversial training tool into an instrument of cruelty. -- Gina Spadafori
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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