By Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
Universal Press Syndicate
When the weather warms up, so does feline romance. That soon means kittens who need new homes are suddenly everywhere. But with so many to choose from, how can you decide which one fits with your personality and lifestyle?
Work with a reputable shelter or rescue group to make sure the kittens you're considering are in good health and have had the benefits of gentle handling by staff and volunteers. Even kittens born wild can usually be tamed, but they need to be exposed to people early to grasp the advantages of being a member of a human family.
Faced with so many kittens, many prospective adopters choose based on looks alone. Some favor tuxedo cats, others red tabbies. Unusual markings can get other kittens adopted, such as "mustaches" or mittens, perfect symmetrical markings or pretty patches of rich, contrasting colors.
But personality counts, too, which is why when you're looking at choosing from a shelter full of healthy kittens, it's a good idea to look beyond the markings to consider the cat within.
The feline personality ranges from the love-everyone attention-seekers to cautious cold-shoulder types. Remember that what you see in a kitten is a window into the personality of the cat that baby will become. Kittens are creatures of their genetics and of what they experience in the first 10 weeks of life. Sadly, a terrified or unfriendly kitten does not offer the best possibility of becoming a loving family pet. So for most people, it's better to choose from among the more promising contenders.
Based on years of experience, we've "cat"-egorized kittens into five personality types, along with the kind of home each is best suited for.
-- The activity junkie: Look at that kitten go! These crazy kittens are in constant motion and will likely become cats who are also busy-busy. Choose one of these kittens and expect an explorer who's always on the go. If you like an entertaining companion, this is the kitten for you.
-- The me-now meower: Look at me! Pay attention to me! As cute as these kittens can be, remember that if you like a quiet house, you might consider another baby. Cats are nocturnal, and the noisy, demanding kitten can become a middle-of-the-night alarm-clock cat. Still, many people love a cat who communicates.
-- The big-league batter: Your finger? It's a kitten toy! These kittens will reach between the gaps in their shelter enclosures to grab your fingers. These lively youngsters will crave play time with you and will use all the kitten toys you can offer. If you can't provide daily, regular play sessions with these tiny tigers, you may find these felines ambushing your feet.
-- The purr machine: Love and lap time are what these babies crave. Touch them or even look at them and their motors start instantly. As adults, they will be happiest when near you and not happy when left alone. This type is an excellent choice for the person who's home a lot and wants an easygoing lap cat.
-- The socialite: These friendly, take-it-all-in-stride youngsters are a good match for homes with children and other pets. The socialite eagerly approaches the front of the kennel to meet and greet you -- tail is up, ears forward, looking for a finger to sniff. These kittens should mature into cats who aren't easily flustered by a busy household.
Of course, adopting is only the beginning. When you adopt a healthy, friendly kitten, you'll need to build on the good start, by teaching your kitten the house rules and how to play and scratch appropriately. Fortunately, this learning is fun for you both.
Win $1,000 in pet supplies
Every month the Pet Connection draws from the subscribers of its free e-mail newsletter for prizes with a total retail value of $1,000. Past winners have received $500 worth of training equipment from Premier Pet (with a $500 matching gift to Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue) and $500 in grooming supplies from the Oster Company, along with a $500 PetSmart gift certificate.
Signing up for the monthly e-mail newsletter is fast, free and easy: Just visit PetConnection.com to sign up and find out what company is giving away a grand in goodies this month.
Bird body language can warn of a bite
Q: I bought an adult yellow-naped Amazon through an ad, cage and all. She has been settling in well and seems to like me most of the time. She'll get on my hand, take treats and play on the gym on top of her cage. Usually, she's funny and good-natured.
Some of the time, though, she seems to be a bit bipolar, desperate to bite me. I know that parrots bite, but there doesn't seem to be any warning that she's in the mood to attack. I've read that I shouldn't hit my bird for biting me, but what else can I do? She has drawn blood. -- P.F., via e-mail
A: As I wrote with avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer in our book "Birds for Dummies," parrots can be loving, cuddly, playful or contemplative one minute, and demanding, aloof, manic or peevish the next. Sharing space with a parrot is like living with another human: Sometimes you just have to pick your moments and know when to back off.
Some of these moods are pretty obvious -- an Amazon in a rowdy state or a cockatoo who wants to be cuddled isn't hard to figure out. Other times, though, behavior signs may be more subtle, and the failure to heed these clues may earn you a nasty bite.
Parrots have keen eyesight and often stare at something that fascinates or frightens them, using one eye and tipping the head, or using both eyes for a head-on look.
When you see that your bird is fixated on something, follow that line of vision. A relaxed body posture accompanies a calm, curious bird's staring, and a more defensive or aggressive body language demonstrates fright. Most often, a locked-on look is a sign of fascination: Like the youngest children, birds can become attracted to something colorful in their environments.
Birds are able to control their irises, shrinking and enlarging their pupils rapidly in a display that's called "flashing" or "pinning."
You have to read the whole bird to put the message in its proper context. Birds may flash their eyes when they're excited or when they're angry. Flashing accompanied by aggressive posturing, such as tail-fanning, signifies a bird who's bound to escalate his warnings -- and maybe even bite -- if not left alone.
Consider flashing to be the physical display of strong emotion -- anything from the "I want to kill you" vibes of an angry or aggressive bird to the "Hey there, cutie" of an infatuated bird.
You might consider getting a copy of Sally Blanchard's "The Beak Book" (CompanionParrot.com, $20) to learn about how to read your pet better as well as how to work with her to modify her biting behavior. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Birds seeing vets a lot more often
-- Among bird-owning households, 13.9 percent had at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2006, an increase of 18.8 percent since 2001, reports Veterinary Forum.
-- What makes for effective political slang? Legendary language guru William Safire has written "Safire's Political Dictionary" (Oxford University Press, $23). Safire told Newsweek that memorable phrases are often borrowed from zoology ("doves and hawks," "lame duck") and horse racing ("running mate," "shoo-in").
-- Although cats in Los Angeles police stations don't wear badges, they're on patrol against rodents. According to the Los Angeles Times, these furry exterminators are too wild to be house pets, and they don't generally kill the rodents. Seems just leaving their scent while on patrol is enough to make the bad guys go away. If only police work could be that easy!
-- The American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation has been working with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to determine the long-term health impact of search-and-rescue dogs following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Led by Dr. Cynthia Otto, the scientists have been monitoring the health and behavior of 97 search-and-rescue dogs. As reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, no clinically obvious differences have been observed between the dogs and a control group of 44 non-deployed dogs. The proportion of deceased deployed dogs to deceased control dogs is not significantly different, nor is the rate of cancer. More information is available on the foundation's Web site (www.akcchf.org). -- Dr. Marty Becker
Brushing can help tame the spring shed
Dogs typically lose their winter coats in the spring, and that means hair everywhere.
The change is most obvious in "double-coated" breeds, such as collies, Samoyeds and malamutes. These breeds carry a protective overcoat of long hair as well as an insulating undercoat that's soft and fuzzy. These breeds lose masses of fur from both of these coats in spring and fall, but the clumps that come out of the undercoat are especially noticeable.
The amount of shedding varies widely from breed to breed. German shepherds, for example, are prolific year-round shedders, while poodles seem to lose very little fur at all. Shorthaired breeds may shed as much as longhairs, but since the hair these dogs drop is easily overlooked, it may seem as if they are shedding less.
All shedders -- even the heaviest -- can be tamed by a regular and frequent schedule of combing and brushing. After all, the fur you catch on a brush won't end up on your furniture.
If you have a purebred or a dog that has the characteristics of a purebred, seek out breed-specific advice in regard to the proper kind of grooming equipment. The brush that works fine on a close-cropped poodle may not make much headway in the thick mane of a full-coated Alaskan malamute at the height of a seasonal shed.
Shedding is normal, but some heavy shedding can be a sign of health problems. Skin allergies and skin parasites may trigger shedding, and poor nutrition or other health problems can also be a cause of coat problems.
Become familiar with your pet's normal pattern of shedding. Ask your veterinarian for advice if your pet's coat condition seems too dull, or if you notice excessive hair loss or bare patches. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Cat allergy attacks
Dogs seem to suffer more from allergies than cats do. That doesn't mean things don't get under the feline skin, though. According to claims made to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. in 2007, the top allergy-related problems for cats were:
1. Skin allergies, generalized
2. Ear infections
3. Eye allergies/conjunctivitis
5. Skin allergies, limited
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Calming cat can minimize marking
While nations use flags to claim their lands, cats unfortunately tend to spray urine or leave feces instead. Such actions can quickly leave them looking for new territory in the least-tolerant of pet-owning homes.
Cats also mark territory by scratching and rubbing their cheeks against objects. Deal with territory-crazy cats by minimizing the need to spray and by channeling their marking behavior toward more acceptable actions and targets.
Encourage acceptable marking by providing plenty of tall scratching posts and cat trees and by praising cheek rubbing. Feliway, a pheromone-based product, may help to calm the competitive stress that leads to marking. When the competition is the neighbor's cat outside, close the blinds or keep cats out of rooms that allow them to see their rivals.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Roland 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600