Universal Press Syndicate
The last few weeks in my home have been magical, in a way only other cat lovers can understand.
I've watched a tiny kitten come into a home already filled -- to the brim, some might say -- with four boisterous dogs, a raucous prankster of a parrot and an extremely bossy rabbit. Within days, she went from overwhelmed to relaxed to ruling, and now the entire family is under her spell. She grooms and is groomed by the oldest dog, plays with the youngest, and sleeps with the others. She watches the parrot with fascination but has learned (with a sharp nip from him) that he is most decidedly not for lunch. And the rabbit? They've reached a peace agreement and completely ignore each other.
As for me, I'm smitten with my kitten.
Having a kitten in my home, though, has sent me diving back into my own books and past columns for reference, just to remind myself that I'm not forgetting anything that will keep her healthy and help her grow into a confident and loving companion.
This is a great time of year to adopt a kitten, with plenty of eager youngsters at the shelters. And if, like me, you're dealing with the joy of a new baby in your home, you'll want some guidance, too.
-- Getting off to a healthy start. Off to the veterinarian with you both! I took Clara in for some visiting and snuggling that were unrelated to any medical procedures -- yes, I have a great relationship with my veterinarians and the staff! -- so she could see that not all veterinary visits are awful.
And then, we tailored a vaccination schedule -- things have changed from the old "yearly shots" -- designed to suit her life as an indoor cat and reduce the risk of vaccine-associated cancers. Preventive care for kittens also includes a discussion of various parasites -- from intestinal worms to fleas to heartworms -- and preventive medicine for all these pests.
Finally, of course, she was spayed (see sidebar).
-- Thinking inside the box. Clara started her life with me in a quiet corner of my home office, living in a large wire dog crate (think Great Dane-sized) with a bed, litter box, toys and food and water. From inside it, she could see the other animals and vice versa without any physical altercations.
Once she relaxed around the other pets (and the dogs learned she was off-limits to them), she graduated to getting the run of the entire room, with the litter box in the adjacent half-bath. She slowly gained the entire run of the house, but still knows the office as her home base. The litter box is still in that half-bath -- a quiet, dog-proof sanctuary. I use a big box and a high-quality clumping litter, and I scoop twice daily to keep it clean.
If I keep up my end of the bargain, keeping the litter box clean in a safe place, she should be able to keep up hers (barring any illness, of course).
-- Keeping the house kitten-safe. I thought because of the parrot and the rabbit (not to mention having just raised a puppy) that my house was fairly kitten-proof. Not so: Kittens add the excitement of elevated trouble, with their ability to get those needle-pointed paws into almost anything and climb upward with speed if not grace.
Knick-knacks too heavy for the parrot to push over proved no match for little Clara, and the control cords of my blinds likewise suffered for her attention. Within a few days I had everything put away, covered up, rolled up and tucked in tight. A new, multilevel cat tree with both carpeting and sisal scratching surfaces soon became her new base of operation. I praised her for using it for her clawing, and so far she's leaving most everything else alone.
-- Embracing the bond. Kittenhood is the time not only to stop bad habits, but also to instill good ones that will last a lifetime. The best part of all is learning to share love.
Clara has learned to play in ways that encourage her to exercise her mind and body, but not her claws, when my skin is involved. She loves the laser pointer, cat-fishing toys and is always left alone with puzzle games that require her to work for food and entertainment. We're even working on a little trick-training, using operant conditioning and food rewards. She loves it!
In just a few short weeks she has gone from a little waif too terrified to leave her carrier to a confident, half-grown cat who's quick to purr and even quicker to pounce in play.
I just can't imagine life without her now, and I look forward to many years with her as part of my loving and entertaining family of pets.
Neuter that kitten!
Not all kittens are as lucky as the little fuzzball you took home. That's why it's so important that you help out all kittens and cats by doing one very important thing with your new feline companion:
Have your pet neutered. The sooner the better.
Veterinary organizations have long endorsed early neutering, on animals as young as 8 weeks. Many humane associations and shelters are already doing so -- perhaps your kitten was fixed before you were allowed to take her home!
At 8 weeks, 8 months or even 8 years, there's no reason to wait -- and a lot of reasons to go forward. Neutering helps to stop the "kittens out, kittens in" game that shelters play -- and lose -- every summer. And spaying and neutering offer some real health and behavior benefits for you as a pet owner.
Get your kitten fixed as soon as you can. It's the right thing to do. -- Gina Spadafori
Cat's rub is love -- and much more
Q: Why are cats so eager to rub up against us? -- B.Q., via e-mail
A: When a cat rubs against a person, it's a sign of friendliness and affection. But rubbing also performs a very important feline function: scent-marking.
Cats want everything in the world to smell as they do, and they spend their lives trying to accomplish that feat. When cats rub against people or furniture, they're depositing sebum from glands on their heads to spread their own trademark scent on what -- or who -- they're bumping.
That's the most "people-approved" form of scent-marking in cats, but there are others. When cats claw, they're not only keeping the tips of their claws razor-sharp, but they're also depositing scent from glands in the feet. When they lick themselves -- or you -- they're putting scent-impregnated saliva all over. Smelling right to a cat is so important that they'll even start grooming themselves after being petted, to cover your scent again with their own.
The least popular form of scent-marking -- from a human point of view, anyway -- is urine-spraying. Although many cat lovers believe this to be a litter-box avoidance issue, in fact it's a completely separate behavior.
A cat urinating in a box squats. A cat scent-marking with urine stands, backs up to the object he's intending to mark, twitches his raised tail and lets it fly. Although urine-spraying is commonly a problem of unneutered males, cats of both genders, neutered or not, have been known to indulge in this messy, smelly habit. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: Is it true that a cat's whiskers are always as wide as his body? Do they use them to judge what they can fit through? -- F.B., via e-mail
A: Sort of. Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle.
That's if those bodies are sleek, that is. The world is full of fat cats, after all, and for them, fitting through tiny holes is not a given. For one thing, they may think they're capable of fitting even if their paunch says otherwise. That's because a cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive, specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can lead some corpulent cats into sticky situations. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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 "dog cars," 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.
Full moon means pet emergencies
-- A study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association finds that emergency room visits for pets increase during or near a full moon.
-- According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterinarians have the lowest risk rate of all professions, often allowing them 100 percent financing on their SBA loans. Veterinarians have a charge-off rate of just .02 percent, whereas medical doctors have a 1 percent charge-off rate.
-- Pets who are overweight or obese are 50 percent more likely to develop asthma than those of normal weight.
-- Grandpa Simpson has some strong opinions. When asked in an AARP interview what movie star he'd most like to be, "The Simpsons" character chose Lassie. "Then at least I'd be fed, walked and hugged," he said.
-- Common foods in the kitchen that can make your pet sick: chocolate, moldy foods, onions, raisins or grapes, salt, and any gum or candy containing xylitol as a sweetener. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Adult dog rules a must for pup
Puppies learn most rapidly before 14 weeks of age and retain those lessons for life. If you have a puppy who's going to be a big dog, you may be letting him learn some bad lessons now. Does he stand on his hind legs reaching up for attention as you sit on the couch? Do you scoop him up and place him on the couch as you watch television? Do you encourage him up onto your bed?
Consider this a warning. At 5 months old, your puppy will not grasp that he's grown plenty big and is going to be even bigger. He will still try putting his front paws on you, sitting on the couch and sleeping in your bed. Training your puppy at 6 months of age not to jump on you and to stay off the furniture is much harder after you've already let him learn unwanted behaviors when he was a little pup.
Always remember to start the "adult dog rules" with your puppy from day one.
(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.)
Stylish Chevy HHR comes with room for dogs
The Chevrolet HHR is one of the more distinctive vehicles on the road, with retro styling that you'll either love or hate. But there's no debating the versatility of this crossover, which has room for people, pets and more.
The four-door with a squared-off back and a lift hatch looks as if it needs a surfboard to complete the picture. Competitive pricing also makes it look as if its appeal should be to the entry-level buyer, with prices starting just a tick under $17,000 in five trim styles, including a windowless panel version. (Multiple option packages, including the useful road-assistance OnStar service, can add on the dollars quickly, though.)
But flip that rear hatch, and you'll find an interior that's roomy and versatile. The bench rear seats flip down easily in a 60/40 configuration, opening up almost 58 cubic feet of cargo space. Even better, the backs of those seats and the rear compartment are covered with high-impact plastic -- no carpet for muddy paws to muck up.
A large storage bin is hidden under the rear deck, with two smaller storage areas with flip-up covers just behind the rear seat.
The HHR's rear deck is low enough that most dogs can get in with ease. And although the cool little hauler isn't wide enough for a pair of side-by-side crates for large dogs, crates for small dogs will have no problem fitting in. Even big dog crates can be accommodated with some creative cargo-loading, with a safe ride available for all.
Basic fuel economy is a decent 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, making this a great car for traveling with your pet. There's room for everything, and getting there won't break the bank. -- Gina Spadafori
(For all the Pet Connection vehicle and travel products reviews, visit DogCars.com.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Where birds stay when you fly
Professional pet care has long been an option for dogs and cats, but few bird lovers use boarding or pet-sitting services when they travel.
TRAVEL CARE FOR BIRDS
Family/friend/neighbor comes to home 53 percent
Leave bird with family/friend/neighbor 17 percent
Leave bird home alone with food/water 13 percent
Take birds along 4 percent
Board bird 1 percent
Professional pet sitter 1 percent
Other/no answer 11 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Errand? Leave your dog home
With just a few weeks left in summer, don't let your guard down when it comes to protecting your dog from a hot car.
Even if your pet loves to run errands, it's better to leave him home at this time of the year. That's because the "greenhouse effect" can turn a car into an oven even on a day that's only warm, not hot.
An 85-degree day may mean 102 degrees inside a vehicle in 10 minutes and 120 degrees within 30 minutes -- even with the windows rolled down slightly.
In just the amount of time it takes to run a quick errand, a dog with heat intolerance -- because of age or a short nose -- can be put at grave risk. And in the time it takes to do a little grocery shopping, any dog can be killed.
It's just not work the risk. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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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