Universal Press Syndicate
If told to imagine a "typical" cat, you're doing well if you think "tiger-striped." That's because the tabby pattern, with its familiar stripes, is the most common in all of catdom. It's so dominant that even some apparently solid-colored cats can be discovered, on close inspection, to have faint stripes, especially on their heads, legs and tails.
"Tabby" is a general term for striped cats, and tabbies come in many colors and patterns -- more than 40 varieties in all. Red tabbies seem to have a special following and mythology, perhaps because in male cats the red-orange gene is almost always connected with tabby markings, while in females, red-orange cats can be tabbies, tortoiseshells or calicoes. (About one calico in 3,000 is male, but he's not your usual male, in that he carries an extra "X" chromosome, an abnormality that not only makes him extremely rare but also likely sterile.) Red tabby males are often called "ginger toms" with great affection.
Tabbies can be further distinguished by differences in the pattern of their stripes. For example, a spotted tabby has gaps in the striping pattern, making the dark color appear as spots. The most recognizable is probably the "mackerel" tabby, with parallel lines placed like the ribs of a fish -- hence the name. All tabby cats carry a special mark in common, an "M" on the top of their heads.
The word "Tabby," by the way, is thought to come from the "Atabi," the name of a ancient silk with a striped pattern.
Here are more fun feline facts from our book "MeowWow: Curiously Compelling Facts, True Tales and Trivia Even Your Cat Won't Know" (HCI, $15):
-- 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 that century; after that, male cats started being called tomcats.
-- Among cat breeds, the size variation ranges from 5 to around 20 pounds. (In dogs, it ranges from less than 5 to more than 200 pounds.) From the smallest cat to the biggest, some cats are bulkier than others, but they're still basically shaped like cats. (In dogs, consider the difference between the greyhound and the dachshund, or the whippet and the English bulldog. About the only variation in feline body shape is the higher rumps of tailless breeds like the Manx.
--- While the idea of dogs and cats at war with each other is a comedic staple, in fact almost half of people who share their homes with a cat also have a dog. These pets get along to varying degrees, from out-and-out loathing to familiar affection. If properly (as in slowly, at the animals' own speed) introduced, dogs and cats usually at least tolerate each other well.
The house rules for small dogs
Q: We're happy with our little dog. She's a Maltese mix, according to the shelter, and she needed a new home after her first owner died. She's such a good little dog, but she's not housebroken. We don't think she ever was, because she comes inside after we take her outside and does her business on the carpet. She has plenty of chances while outside, but I don't think she gets it. Maybe it's the new home, or maybe her old owner just couldn't cope.
We want to make this work, so we obviously need to fix this. She's little bitty thing, but even a little mess can be annoying every day. -- W.D., via e-mail
A: Small dogs can indeed be difficult to house-train, for a couple of different reasons. One of the major problems is inconsistency on the part of the owner. A Great Dane who isn't house-trained is a much bigger problem than a Yorkie with the same bad behavior. A lot of people with small dogs decide it's just as easy to clean up a little mess now and then instead of working on a big training problem.
But little dogs can be house-trained. Toy breed expert Darlene Arden says you have to start by looking at things from a little dog's point of view.
For example, you have to make sure your dog feels safe in the outdoor spot you've chosen for him. A dog's guard is down during the act of elimination. And when a dog weighs 10 pounds or less, it's important for him to feel he's not going to be attacked. "They feel vulnerable," says Arden. "You need to find that one very safe spot for them." And keep the grass short so the dog doesn't feel as if he's hacking through a jungle, she adds.
Despite the special challenges the small dog presents, Arden says house-training is possible. Once your dog has that safe spot outside, you can teach him to use it with the aid of a schedule, praise and a dedication to consistency.
"Feed on a schedule," says Arden. "You must take your dog out after he eats, after play, after any kind of stimulation. Take a special treat and your happiest voice to the special spot. The moment the puppy's feet hit the ground, get excited." When the deed is done, says Arden, praise to the heavens and deliver the treat.
Limiting a dog's range in the house helps, too. "I'm a firm believer in crate-training -- as a tool, not a punishment," says Arden. "A crate keeps a dog out of trouble when you can't watch him."
Mistakes are part of the learning process and should never be punished. "If you see the dog starting to go in the house, pick him up and run him to that special spot," says Arden, and praise him when he finishes up outside.
The fact that your dog comes in to relieve herself suggests she hasn't a clue about what you expect from her. Start from the beginning. Clean up past mistakes with an enzymatic cleaner, restrict her range in the house, take her outside and praise her for getting it right. If problems continue, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can observe your interactions and set up a program just for you and your dog.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Exotic pets get their own vets
-- By the end of 2009, around 30 veterinarians will pursue certification in a new specialty -- Exotic Companion Mammal Practice. The Veterinary Information Network News Service (news.vin.com) reports that this specialty, the first new specialty to earn the American Board of Veterinary Practitioner's provisional recognition in at least 15 years, focuses on ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, rodents and other small pet mammals.
-- Two-thirds of pet owners believe they can understand their animals' language, including their barks, chirps and purrs, according to an informal poll on Petside.com. Men are twice as likely as women to say they have no idea what a pet is saying. Only three out of 10 dog owners say they don't "speak dog," while half of cat owners say they can't understand their more mysterious pets.
-- Living in a zoo drastically shortens the lives of Asian and African elephants, possibly because of the effects of stress and obesity. According to a report in The New York Times, researchers who studied data from European zoos are not recommending that zoos abandon elephants but are suggesting that imports of elephants should be limited to zoos that can identify and treat problems. The report draws on data from 1960-2005 and found that the median life span of zoo-born African elephants was 16.9 years, compared with 56 years for animals in national parks in Kenya. The median life span for Asian elephants in zoos was 18.9 years, compared with 41.7 years for elephants used for logging in Myanmar. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Learn how to check your dog's vital signs
A dog's heart normally beats between 70 to 180 times per minute, with little dogs having a faster heart rate. A puppy will also have a faster pulse -- up to 220 beats per minute. You can take your dog's pulse at home, by the way, but not by putting your fingertips on your dog's wrist, as you would with a person. Instead, check the heart rate in one of two places.
Choice 1: Put your hand over your dog's left side, behind the front leg. You'll feel the heart pulsing beneath your fingers (if you can't, you might talk to your veterinarian about getting some of the fat off your dog).
Choice 2: Put your fingertips on the femoral artery, on the inside of the leg just where it meets the body, right in the middle. (It's a pretty big blood vessel, so you shouldn't have any problem finding it.)
Either way, count the beats while 15 seconds click off your watch. Multiply by four to get the BPM, or beats per minute. Do it when your dog is healthy and relaxed, so you'll know what's normal.
Normal canine body temperature is between 101.5 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a degree either way. You can use a traditional thermometer, or a newer one that takes an electronic reading from the ear canal. (If you use the traditional kind, be sure to take an indelible-ink marker and clearly write "dog" on the one you plan to use for your dog, so there's no confusion. You don't want something in your mouth that has been in your dog's fanny!) -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Go ahead: Feed a cat
Cat lore dictates that if you feed a stray cat, you've adopted a stray cat. That seems to be largely true, based on a survey showing where people get their cats (multiple answers allowed):
Pet store adoption program 3%
Kitten of own cat 15%
Classified ad 8%
Pet store purchase 4%
Rescue group 3%
Source: American Pet Products Association
Secure pets for safer car rides
Securing a pet in a vehicle makes sense all around. A loose animal in the car can cause an accident by distracting the driver. In an accident, or even if the driver has to stop suddenly, a pet can hurt himself or other passengers. Fortunately, you can easily secure your pet with new products designed for comfort and safety.
For cats and dogs, crates -- secured to the floor or to a safety belt for small pets -- are perfect for travel. They keep pets in place and allow for transport straight into the veterinary office for scaredy-cats or nervous dogs.
For dogs, a wide variety of safety harnesses has become available in recent years. Many of these snap right into existing seat-belt buckles, and some double as harnesses for walking the dog once you get where you're going. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.