Universal Press Syndicate
This week and next, we're going to share excerpts from two of our three new books. We're starting with fun feline facts from "MeowWow: Curiously Compelling Facts, True Tales & Trivia Even Your Own Cat Won't Know" (HCI, $15). Next week, we're going to the dogs.
A cat's heart normally beats between 120 and 220 times per minute, with a relaxed cat on the lower end of the scale. It's not unusual for a cat's heart rate to be high at the veterinarian's because cats don't like to be away from home, and because they certainly don't like being poked and prodded by strangers.
People crave sweets, but cats couldn't care less because the taste buds of a cat are incapable of detecting, appreciating or triggering a craving for foods we recognize as "sweet." It's unclear whether the ancestors of cats had the ability to detect sweet and lost it, or whether cats never developed a "sweet tooth" because, as true carnivores, they didn't need it.
Not all white cats are deaf, but deafness is certainly not uncommon among them. White cats with blue eyes are more likely to be deaf than white cats with eyes of any other color.
The average domestic cat can run at a speed of around 30 mph. To put that in perspective, a thoroughbred racehorse can maintain a speed of 45 mph for more than a mile. Racing greyhounds can hit just under 42 mph for about a third of a mile. But it's a cat who takes the land-speed record: The cheetah can go 70 mph for a couple of hundred yards.
Like the cheetah -- albeit not as fast -- domestic cats are built for quick bursts of speed. While you could never outrun a dog over distance, you could outrun a cat. They quickly overheat when running and have to stop after just 30 to 60 seconds to cool down.
The British government for many years kept cats "on the payroll" to help keep buildings free of rodents.
The first Siamese cat in the United States is said to have been a cat named Siam, given in the late 1870s as a gift to Lucy Hayes, the first lady and wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, by the ambassador of Siam (now known as Thailand). These cats became highly sought-after in the United States and United Kingdom, and they are now among the most recognizable of breeds (even though other breeds also share the distinctive pointed markings, with darker fur on the head, legs and tail).
The common phrase "curiosity killed the cat" has probably been around far longer, but an early version of it is attributed to Shakespeare, who noted that "care killed a cat" in "Much Ado About Nothing." Along the way, "care" became "curiosity," although the meaning is largely the same: Stick your nose where it doesn't belong, and you can get into trouble."
The playwright Eugene O'Neill is credited with using the exact phrasing in use today.
While a male cat -- especially an unneutered one -- is today called a "tom," that wasn't always the case. Up until the late 1700s, male cats were known as "rams" (like sheep) or "boars" (like pigs). A book about cats with a character named Tom became popular in the latter part of the 18th century. After that, male cats started being called "tomcats."
Next week: Fun facts about dogs.
Phone prompts poodle to bark
Q: My miniature poodle has an annoying habit that used to be minor, but now it's out of control. He barks when the phone rings and won't stop until I'm off the phone. I don't understand why he does this. He can tell it's making me crazy. I've started yelling at him, but he just backs up and out of my reach and barks more. -- B.N., via e-mail
A: Anyone who has ever worked taking phone orders for a catalog company can tell you it seems half the dogs in the world start barking the minute their owners get on the phone. Why does this happen? Because the dogs have been taught to behave that way -- accidentally, of course.
The problem starts when a dog barks at you once when you're on the phone. If he did that while you were watching TV or paying bills on the computer, you'd likely not reward the behavior. You'd probably ignore the dog, and the behavior wouldn't be repeated.
But if you're on the phone, you don't want the person on the other end to hear your dog barking, or to hear you yell at your dog to shut up. Chances are you'll pet your dog, just to keep him quiet. Before too long, you have a dog who starts yapping every time you pick up the phone, because that behavior has been rewarded.
Some people take it even a step further. There are plenty of people who give their dogs treats to shut them up while they're on the phone. This is a big payoff for the dog, rewarding every yip with a biscuit. No wonder the behavior gets worse and worse!
The best way to solve this problem is to never reward it -- don't praise or treat your dog in the short term as a "fix" for behavior you don't want in the long run. But since your dog is already a pest -- and yelling doesn't fix the problem, as you've seen -- ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer who can help show you how to undo the annoying little trick you inadvertently taught your dog. -- 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.
Cats, dogs can prevent allergies
-- In a Scientific American article, Matthew Perzanowski, an environmental health scientist at Columbia University, said a pet cat appears to provide a protective effect for children against developing allergies. There's even stronger evidence from dogs, according to Augusto Litonjua, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, citing his own studies. While we all know pets make us feel good, research is increasingly showing that pets are good for us, too.
-- Russian President Vladimir Putin may seem a little dour, but he's soft on the inside, at least when it comes to dogs. The New York Times reports that Putin is accompanied to all meetings by his glossy black Labrador retriever, Koni.
-- A study published in Veterinary Economics magazine reveals that in high-performing practices, veterinary medications are marked up 150 percent; heartworm, flea and tick-control products 100 percent; and prescription diets 45 percent.
-- Pets are part of the family, according to a Merial/Harris Interactive survey. Some 49 percent of dog owners and 69 percent of cat owners let their pets sleep in bed with them. Dogs get scraps from the plates of 65 percent of owners, 54 percent of whom say their dog stares at them while they eat -- no surprise there! In the same survey, 56 percent of pet owners report feeling guilty when they leave their pet with a sitter or at a kennel. Finally, 74 percent admit they spoil their animals. We're guessing the other 26 percent must be lying. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Challenge others in dog trivia game
Looking for a way to spend an evening with friends or family that doesn't involve the TV? How about testing the family's knowledge of dogs with a new trivia game?
SmartsCo, a company that specializes in trivia games on all kinds of subjects, has come up with a new one aimed at dog lovers. DogSmarts comes with 60 questions and answers on lovely, well-designed cards, a guide to more information about dogs, and score pads for figuring out the winners. A portion of the proceeds goes to Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs to assist people who have disabilities.
DogSmarts has a suggested retail of $17 and is available through gift retailers or from the company's Web site (www.smartsco.com). -- Gina Spadafori
Little dogs often have big attitudes
Many little dogs are actually among the smartest of breeds, and you have to give some credit even to those who don't (on the surface) seem to have the highest IQs. After all, we all have to work for a living, but toy dogs? All the best food, cutest clothes, traveling in designer bags into all the nicest stores -- we should be so smart as to arrange our lives like theirs.
But there's no doubt that many small dogs have a big attitude, and some of them have a decidedly bad attitude. The blame, says a top expert in those dogs some people call "ankle-biters," is with the people who own them, not with the diminutive canines themselves.
"People let these little dogs get away with everything, because they're so cute and so small," says Darlene Arden, author of the "Small Dogs, Big Hearts: A Guide to Caring for Your Little Dog" (Howell Book House, $20) and an expert on these most tiny of dogs.
Arden says some small dogs are reacting out of fear, while others really are trying to pick a fight with bigger dogs. "They're saying, 'I'm a dog, too. Want to make something of it?'" says Arden. "These little dogs really believe they're bigger."
Since so many small dogs are carried, many of them come to believe they are elevated in status as well as height. Arden says it's up to the owners to make sure small dogs are socialized, well-trained and protected.
"Some people think it's really funny when a small dog acts aggressive," says Arden, "but it won't be funny when that behavior gets a dog killed."
In other words, little dogs need manners just as big dogs do, and don't let your little dog mix it up with his big brothers. The little dog may start the fight, but the big dog will always end it. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
People first, but not by much
If you had to choose only one companion if stranded on a deserted island, what would it be? According to a 2004 survey of pet lovers, the highest number would choose a person over a particular kind of pet -- but if you tally all pets together, people lose. The results:
Human 47 percent
Dog 40 percent
Cat 10 percent
Other 2 percent
None less than 1 percent
Source: American Animal Hospital Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Ease old pet into accepting new one
If you already have a pet and plan to add another, matching personality types may help make the transition smoother and the outcome more successful. A shy, quiet pet may not appreciate a wild, rambunctious home invader. Older pets may find it easier to accept a very young pup or kitten.
Begin by isolating the new pet to one room for a couple of weeks. Try feeding the resident pet and new pet on either side of a doorway. When the existing pet eats, allow the new pet more freedom. Be sure the senior pet can get away from the youngster when desired.
Praise and give treats for all friendly, calm, accepting behaviors. Associate the new pet with all good things. Bribery and flattery will get you everywhere!
(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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