Universal Press Syndicate
The signs of illness in cats can be particularly subtle, so much so that owners often don't realize their cats are sick until they're really sick -- and sometimes that's too late.
To keep your cat healthy, you must be able to recognize what is normal for your pet so you can tell when something isn't right. Changes in appetite, drinking habits, litter-box routines, grooming, and even a change in the sound of your cat's voice can all mean trouble -- and should mean a trip to the veterinarian.
Physical changes are important, too. A monthly hands-on examination will help you become aware of changes that could signify something serious.
Before starting a hands-on exam, though, stand back and study your pet for a few minutes. Consider his posture, activity level, gait, coat and overall appearance for an impression of good health. Trouble signs include exposed skin, thin or dry coat, ribs showing, sluggishness, limping or just a lack of "spring" in his step.
Pick up your cat and head for the bathroom scale. Note your weight with your cat, then yours alone. The difference is your cat's weight, and it should be between 8 and 10 pounds. Your cat is normal if a comfortable pad of fat lies over his ribs but you can still feel the ribs if you press your hands in gently. A difference of a pound up or down is fine over the course of a few months -- anything more, or rapid weight loss, is reason for concern.
Now for the hands-on part. Here's what to look for:
-- Nose. Your cat's nose should be moist and clean, not dry, scabbed or cracked. There should be no discharge or bleeding.
-- Eyes. Probably the most beautiful part of any cat, eyes should bright, moist and clear, centered between the eyelids, with the pupils of equal size. Eyes that are dull or sunken, that appear dry or have thick discharge are not right. Take your cat into a darkened room, and then quickly turn on a light. The pupils should contract quickly, with no difference between them.
-- Ears. The skin should be clean, dry, smooth and without wounds. The ear canal should be clean and almost odor-free. Crust, moisture, discharge or strong odor in the ear canal is bad news, as is pain at the touch or an unusual way of holding the head or ears.
-- The mouth. Your cat's teeth should be clean and white, with gums that are uniformly pink. Press on your pet's gum with your finger or thumb and release quickly. The color will be white but should return to the same color as the surrounding tissue within one or two seconds, a sign your cat's circulatory system is working well. Problem signs here include loose or missing teeth, tartar, or gums that are red, pale, inflamed or sore in appearance.
-- Breathing. It should be hard to hear your cat breathe, and his chest wall should move easily in and out as he does. Most of the act of breathing should be performed by the chest wall; the stomach should barely move. "Crackles" or wheezes indicate a problem, as does labored or rapid breathing.
-- The abdomen. Start just behind the ribs and gently press your hands into the abdomen. Proceed toward the rear of your pet, passing your hands gently over the abdomen. Some bumps should be there -- they're internal organs, such as the kidneys. You should find no other lumps, bumps or masses, though, and your pet should feel no discomfort as you press gently into him.
-- Hydration. Check to ensure your cat has enough fluids by pulling the skin just behind his shoulder blades into a tent and then releasing quickly. Your pet's skin should snap immediately back into position. Another good sign of hydration is that the gums just above the teeth are moist when touched.
Chances are your cat will check out fine, in which case your exam should turn into a long, loving petting session. If anything came up that worries you, see your veterinarian to ensure your cat's good health.
Curing a dog of licking carpets
Q: We have a year-old longhaired dachshund, a spayed female. She has plenty of toys to chew on, but she licks the carpets all over the house. Sometimes she scratches on the rugs as though she is trying to build a nest. That I can understand, but the licking? What do you think? -- S.L., via e-mail
A: One reason dogs lick objects, including surfaces like your carpet, is because of stress. Excessive licking can be what's called a "stress-induced displacement behavior." It means that this particular dog, in this particular environment with these particular genetics, is having trouble coping with something.
When dogs are in conflict over two seemingly stressful choices, they may choose a third option: the displacement behavior. For example, if you ever punished your dog during house-training by rubbing her nose in the carpet, she may believe you want her to lick the carpet.
Any time she feels a need to relieve herself or get your attention, she may begin the carpet-licking because she is in conflict about what else to do. Behaviors become repetitive if the dog gets any kind of positive outcome, such as your attention, or if the behavior seems to help her escape punishment.
In the dog's mind, it's like he's figured out a safe retreat behavior: "My owner never yells at me or hits me when I lick the carpet."
The trigger could also be some other stress. Possible sources of stress for dogs who check out as healthy by a veterinarian include a lack of sufficient exercise, no clear training, misunderstood punishment and no feeling of control over their environment.
Our guess is that your dachshund may have normal canine confusion that comes from not understanding the dynamics of a human household.
Dogs can also have obsessive-compulsive disorders. Your dog could have an OCD if it is difficult or nearly impossible to interrupt the licking behavior with a toy or treat. Displacement behaviors can become compulsions. The longer a behavior has been present, the more difficult it is to replace it with a more desirable behavior.
Try to change your dog's behavior by using gentle interruptions -- no scolding or punishment, because that may increase your dog's anxiety and increase the licking behavior.
If your dog begins licking the carpet, your best bet is to immediately turn your back and leave the room. Teach your dog that chewing or playing with toys results in your positive attention, while licking the carpet results in no attention. Do not be emotional, as dogs read and react to our emotions.
Be aware that if your dog has learned to lick the carpet to capture your attention and you suddenly remove that attention, then your dog's carpet-licking may increase and your dog's anxiety may increase, resulting in new attention-seeking behaviors.
Each dog, like each person, is distinct. You may be doing everything right and this is just who she is. In that case, if she's doing no harm to herself or the carpet, you can simply ignore the behavior. If it has become a problem for you or the dog, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who can work with you to change your pet's behavior. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Hey! His treat looks better!
-- Loyalty may be why we love our dogs, but scientists have found that dogs can display a less-appealing attribute: envy. Austrian scientists found that a dog may stop obeying a command if he sees that another dog is getting a better deal. Until now, chimpanzees and some monkeys were the only non-humans to show what is called "inequity aversion" in the absence of a reward. The study used well-trained dogs who offer a paw on command. The researchers put the two dogs side by side but treated them differently, giving one a better reward (sausage) and the other a lesser one (bread) when the paw was given, or giving one dog no reward at all. The quality of the reward made little difference. But in the case in which one dog got no treat at all, that dog became less and less inclined to obey the command.
-- Whether the hair on a horse's head curls around clockwise or counterclockwise can tell you whether the animal is right- or left-footed, say researchers in Ireland. Clues to which direction a horse favors could help trainers develop animals who run straighter and maybe even win more races.
-- Research involving the use of animals is down by half since the 1970s, according to USA Today. Opponents of animal testing focus on the number of drugs that have tested well in animals but failed in humans (among them, HIV/AIDS vaccine and Vioxx). Proponents point to the drugs or procedures that were discovered, tested and refined in animal trials including: insulin, vaccines for rabies and polio, skin grafts for burn victims, CAT scans, corneal transplants and heart bypass surgery. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
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 monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Proper handling makes parrots better pets
Parrots are brilliant pets. They learn quickly and respond best to owners who practice consistent, firm handling and gentle training. Punishment is a parrot no-no.
-- Learn when to leave your bird alone. Birds are emotional and sometimes quite moody, and there are times when it's best just to let them be.
-- Control your bird's comings and goings. Instead of opening the cage door to let your pet out, ask your bird to step up onto your hand and then bring him out. Likewise, give the "step up" command when it's time to put your bird back in his cage. This routine sends a message of leadership to your bird.
-- Keep training sessions short and upbeat. Parrots are highly intelligent, but they don't have the longest attention spans. They get bored easily. Several short interactive sessions a day -- just a couple of minutes at a time -- are better than one or two long ones.
-- Don't let your bird ignore a command. If you say "step up," persist until your bird complies or you'll set yourself up for trouble down the road. Birds are very smart, and if they figure a way around you, they'll take it. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
We love to buy pet toys
Pet toys are more than an indulgence -- they can help prevent destructive behavior and keep pets more fit and less bored. According to the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of dog owners buy toys for their pets. The top toys reported by those buyers, by percentage reported purchased, with multiple answers allowed:
Balls 63 percent
Plush 44 percent
Rope 40 percent
Hard rubber 31 percent
Nylon bones 26 percent
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Show your dog how to be calm
When you are walking your dog and you see something that triggers out-of-control behavior, resist the temptation to yank back on the leash. Instead, set a good example for him.
Do not yell at him to stop. Your agitation only increases his. Be calm: Let out a deep breath, squat down and get him to sit, reinforcing the behavior you want until whatever it is that drives him bonkers passes by.
Talk softly: "Yes, that's a school bus. Gooood sit. Gooood quiet."
Being calm provides your dog with emotional leadership. If you begin praising his calm behavior before he blows his top, it will be easier for him to maintain self-control. And eventually, the triggers will no longer fire the behavior you don't want.
(Animal-behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp run 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.