Universal Press Syndicate
Do you pause when a black cat crosses your path? Even pet experts sometimes do, and then laugh for being influenced by such a silly old myth, even for a second. But that's the funny thing about cats -- more than any other domestic animal, they are the subject of countless myths, legends and old wives' tales.
While some stories about cats are harmless, others are too dangerous not to debunk. Here, from our archives, are some stubborn old myths about cats -- and the facts to counter them.
-- Black cats are bad luck. Black may be an unlucky color all right, mostly for cats themselves. Black may be an unfortunate color for the reason of visibility. Countless cats are killed by cars every year, and the difference between a hit or a near miss may be the driver's ability to see the cat darting across the road. At night, patches of light-colored fur are a distinct advantage.
-- Cats need to drink milk. Is cow's milk the perfect food for cats? Not at all! On the contrary, some cats (like some people) can't tolerate milk well. For these animals, a saucer of milk means gastric upset. In the wild, kittens never drink milk after they're weaned, and domestic cats have no reason to either. On the other hand, if your cat likes and can tolerate milk, feel free to offer it as an occasional treat. Milk is a good source of protein and other nutrients for those cats who don't find it upsetting.
-- Cats purr when they're happy. Expert cat observers know that purring isn't just a sound of contentment. Cats also purr if they're injured, while giving birth -- even when dying. British zoologist Desmond Morris has observed that purring is "a sign of friendship -- either when (the cat) is contented with a friend or when it is in need of friendship, as with a cat in trouble."
-- Cats are a danger to babies. So many cats find themselves looking for new homes when a baby is expected that you could put it another way: Babies are a danger to cats. But you don't need to find a new home for your pet if you become pregnant. Cats do not maliciously smother or suck the breath out of babies, as the myths hold. That doesn't mean some considerations aren't in order, however. Pregnant women have to take special precautions when cleaning the litter box (or have someone else do it) because of the risk of disease. And even animal advocates remind new parents that common sense dictates no animal be left unattended with a small child -- for the protection of both.
-- A well-fed cat won't hunt. The ability to hunt is hardwired into all cats, but the level of desire varies by each cat's genetics and early experiences, not by the rumbling in his belly. The play of kittens -- pouncing and leaping on anything that moves -- is really hunting behavior. Observers of feline behavior believe that if the mother is an eager hunter, the kittens may be, too. Putting a bell on your cat won't protect wildlife, but keeping him in will.
The rest of the secrets behind those beautiful feline eyes will just have to stay a mystery. And that's just fine with us cat lovers, isn't it?
Cat introductions require patience
Q: When my next-door neighbor knew she was going into a nursing home, she asked me to take her cat. She passed away shortly afterward.
The problem is, my cat doesn't want another one in the house. Now I could have my neighbor's cat as an outdoor cat -- that's what she's used to -- but I wonder if I should try to find her another home, where she wouldn't be an afterthought. I would appreciate your suggestions. -- L.D., via e-mail
A: Let's look at your options.
First, get your cat to accept another cat inside. This doesn't always work, but if you start out with the new cat in her own room and be patient and never forceful with the introductions, you could end up with two cats who like (or at least tolerate) each other. This seems to me the best solution, and I think you would agree.
A twist on this option is to set up the new cat in a separate living space permanently. I know people with "upstairs" and "downstairs" cats who get along well in their own territory, as long as neither cat breaks the truce by crossing the imaginary line between warring states. This could work if you have a home that lends itself to division, such as putting the new cat in comfortable digs like a bedroom adjacent to a screened patio.
Second choice, leave your neighbor's cat as an outdoor cat, which shouldn't be that hard since you're one house over. If the new cat is older and stays close, this could work, but there are serious downsides. For example, the new cat could insist on revisiting the house next door, even after new people move in. And there are always all the usual hazards that shorten the lives of outdoor cats, such as cars, coyotes and cat haters.
Third choice, find the cat a new home. If you are willing to keep this cat, I'd encourage you to do so and to continue working on the living arrangements. Adult cats can be difficult to place, and in the current economic situation, finding homes for pets is even harder than usual.
You can try to place the new cat, though: Make fliers, take out ads and use the Internet to spread the word. Post the fliers everywhere you can -- bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office. Talk to everyone, even people whom you know won't take her. Someone who doesn't want a cat may know someone else who'd be perfect for this one. Check references!
If you find a perfect home, then great. Otherwise, keep working toward getting the two cats to get along. It may take weeks or months, but the payoff is you'll have kept your promise to your late neighbor, and both cats will be safe and happy indoors. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Cheetahs saved by protection of dogs
-- One dog breed is helping save countless big cats in Namibia. Once shot for eating livestock, cheetahs are kept safe by Kangal Anatolian shepherd dogs who keep them away from livestock. The dogs, originally bred in Turkey for defending villagers from wolves, is skilled at fending off even large cheetahs. The Cheetah Conservation Fund has donated more than 300 Kangal dogs to Namibia, with the program dramatically decreasing the number of livestock and cheetahs killed. According to the Times of London, the program is so successful, it may be used in Kenya next.
-- Moths are not attracted to flames, but rather, disoriented by them. According to "The Book of General Ignorance" by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, insects navigate by the sun and moon, which helps direct their path in a straight line. Moths become confused when flying by artificial light. With the change in their light path, the moth adjusts by flying in circles around the light to see the light source again as stationary.
-- More organic foods are being fed to our pets, according to the market research firm Packaged Facts. In 2007 organic foods reached $1 billion in sales, representing 6 percent of all pet food sales. That's a 50 percent growth rate since 2003.
-- A fly's ability to avoid a swatter has as much to do with brainpower as raw speed, according to high-speed digital-imaging experiments at Caltech. An article in Popular Science said that within 300 milliseconds before a fly takes off, it compares visual information about the threat to the current position of its body, performs a calculation and moves its legs into the optimal position to prepare for an escape leap. So take your best guess at the fly's escape route and swing the rolled newspaper there. -- 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.
Keeping hounds from howling
Howling is fun. It's like group singing or picking up the microphone at a canine karaoke machine. It's a way for dogs scattered across a few miles and separated by fences to get in touch with their inner wolf and be a part of something bigger ... a pack!
It used to be thought that sirens hurt the sensitive ears of dogs and that howling was a protest of pain. But now it's thought to be an instinctive group behavior. The right noise -- a siren or even the right notes on a viola -- will get a dog lifting his nose to the sky, and once the woo-wooing/wow-wowing starts, other dogs just can't help but join in.
Some breeds are more prone to howling than others. The wolfish Northern breeds seem to take to it naturally, as do hounds such as beagles and bassets, with their distinctive baying.
Of course, no matter how much fun your dog is having, the howl-fests aren't winning you any fans with your neighbors. So when the woo-wooing starts, hush your puppy. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
It's often said that there are "dog people" and "cat people." But a lot of folks are just plain "pet people." For example, many people who have a dog also have (multiple answers allowed):
Cat 41 percent
Fish 20 percent
Bird 10 percent
Small animal 9 percent
Reptile 7 percent
Horse 5 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Food treats get attention
Because pets communicate with body language more than verbal language, it makes sense to show, not tell, pets what to do. Food gets their attention and makes learning more of a game than work.
For example, before a meal, put a kibble or treat in your hand and let your pet lick or sniff it as you walk backward. Keep the food at mouth level, and your pet will likely follow. Add the word "come" just before releasing the treat, and your pet will eventually learn the word.
You can teach many behaviors this way. To teach "sit," move the treat up and back over the head until it's easier to sit than stand. Just as your pet sits, give the treat and say, "Sit." Add "Goooood!" with a finger tickle to your pet's favorite spot plus some lovey-dovey talk to seal the deal. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, 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.