(NOTE: This is a vacation column. It ran previously the week of Jan. 22, 2007.)
Universal Press Syndicate
Most dog owners come into the veterinary office with their canine companions devotedly following them. Tails wagging, the dogs look up at their people with adoring eyes.
Most cat owners, on the other hand, wrestle a cardboard box into the exam room, reach in like a magician and pull out not a rabbit, but an angry cat. For their efforts they get covered with furry shrapnel and sometimes raked with claws until their face and arms look like so many tic-tac-toe games.
As a lifetime pet lover and a veterinarian of 27 years, I've noticed cat lovers are a special breed. And for those of us who love the cat's fierce independence, tempered by the ability to adopt us as family -- and I am one of these, owned by five cats -- here are some behavior tips for cats:
-- Strategically place your hairball. If you have to hack up a hairball, toss it like a trophy onto something visible and valuable like the new leather couch. If you can't reach that in time, an Oriental rug is an appropriate substitute.
-- Know the enemy and embrace him. If mom is entertaining, determine quickly who hates or is allergic to cats, race immediately to that person and leap into his or her lap. Mom's watching, so he won't dare push you off and will even fake affection by stroking you and repeating, "Nice kitty. Niiiice kitty."
-- Wear fur proudly. You must always select clothing in sharp contrast to your own fur color on which to rub, leap or audition for the president of the Hair Club for Cats. Again, dare to share.
-- Johnnie on-the-spot. As a courtesy, always accompany guests to the toilet. Your job is to sit and stare like you're a peeping-tom cat. If you get some really good shots, post them on the Internet and make a lot of bucks.
-- Cat scratch fever. If someone claims to love cats and that all cats love him or her in return, lull that person into thinking you're a Stepford Cat. When his or her guard is dropped and the perfect cat lover begins to bask in a snapshot moment, show utter disdain, lay claw tracks across the expensive hosiery or silk tie, or turn unexpectedly and give a quick nip deep enough to test someone's blood type.
-- Behind door No. 3. Never allow closed doors in any room except when you need to trap the dog. To crack open a closed one, stand on your hind legs and jackhammer it with your forepaws, scratch it like you're headed for China, or put your paws underneath it and keep pulling. Or just throw yourself against it repeatedly. Once the genie appears and opens the door for you, change your mind and walk away.
-- Paper weight. If you come across somebody doing homework, paying bills or reading the newspaper, settle down on the page being worked on. This may entitle you to flying lessons, but when you get back on the page, and you will, make sure that you take everything with you -- pens, pencils, other papers -- on your next scheduled flight.
-- Knit wits. If mom's into crocheting or knitting, curl up quietly in her lap and pretend to catnap. Then spring into action by grabbing the yarn and causing her knitting needles or crochet hook to plunge sharply like a trophy catfish has just hit the bait. She'll try to distract you and pick up the slipped stitch. Ignore her efforts to calm you, close your eyes again, and prepare for strike two.
-- Early to bed, early to rise. Get plenty of sleep both during the day and in the evening, when your people want you to play. That way, you'll be fully rested and ready to rumble with Sleeping Beauty anytime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
And always remember the No. 1 rule for being a cat: When in doubt, blame the dog.
If you have more tips for feline etiquette, share them! E-mail 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 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.
Cataracts may not be the problem
Q: My 10-year-old cocker spaniel has been bumping into walls and generally not seeing as well when it gets dark. I took her to the veterinarian and was told my dog has the beginning stages of cataracts. Surgery was recommended, but it costs a great deal of money. Are there other options? -- C.W., via e-mail
A: It is not clear, no pun intended, that your dog even has cataracts. Dr. Samuel Vainisi, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and owner of Animal Eye Clinic in Denmark, Wis., suspects your cocker spaniel more likely has a retinal problem than cataracts, because not seeing well in the dark is more likely due to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA).
PRA is a common condition in cockers, and one of the first problems owners will notice is problems with night vision. Vainisi notes that your dog could also have the beginning stages of cataracts. To determine if your cocker spaniel's vision problem is from PRA, cataracts or both, you should request a referral from your veterinarian to a veterinary ophthalmologist.
The lens of the eye is living ocular tissue that, when healthy, is transparent. The lens helps focus light on the retina. A cataract is any alteration in the lens that causes a loss of transparency and the scattering of light. The loss of transparency can range from hardly noticeable to completely opaque. A few common causes include genetics (such eye problems are very common in 2- to 5-year-old cocker spaniels), diabetes, age, accident and inflammation of the eye.
Cataracts are seen equally among males and females but are seen more frequently in the following breeds: cocker spaniels, bichon frises, poodles, Boston terriers, miniature schnauzers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, wirehaired fox terriers, Labrador and golden retrievers, and Siberian huskies. Because cataracts most commonly develop between 2 and 5 years of age in dogs, it's not a disease of old age, as it is in people.
Several products claim to dissolve cataracts, but none have been successful in providing significant vision improvement, says Dr. Dan Lorimer, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and partner at Michigan Veterinary Specialists. As with people, treatment for animals usually involves surgical removal of the cataract. While costs vary by region -- procedures are typically more expensive on both coasts -- uncomplicated cataract surgery (both eyes) generally runs between $2,000 and $3,000.
Both Vainisi and Lorimer point out that while surgery is the best option, dogs with cataracts can function quite well in their home environment. They must be kept safe with leashes and outside fences, and must be kept away from stairways, decks and other hazards. Their sense of smell, hearing and memory normally allow them to do well at home. Resources include the Owners of Blind Dogs Web site (www.blinddogs.com) and "Living With Blind Dogs: A Resource Book and Training Guide for the Owners of Blind and Low-Vision Dogs" by Caroline D. Levin (Lantern, $30). -- Dr. Marty Becker
Use the cell phone
Q: We live in a resort area and often find wandering dogs. Recently, we were able to reunite one such dog and his owner because the owner had put his cell phone number on the tag rather than his home phone number.
Those who have cell phones should put that number on their dog's ID tag or collar and list it with the company that has microchipped the dog as well. -- M.W., via e-mail
A: Before the time when everyone had a cell phone, I used to recommend that people use temporary ID tags when traveling. Now, it's easy: Make sure your pet's permanent ID tag has a cell phone number on it. And make sure that cell phone number is also in the microchip database, veterinary records and license registration. Thanks for giving me the chance to remind people. -- Gina Spadafori
Something fishy in the bathroom
We see a lot of new pet products, most of which are variations of older ones -- endless new versions of bowls, beds, collars and more. But in all our years of writing about pets and their gear, we have to say we've never seen anything like the Fish 'n Flush.
The clear, two-piece tank replaces a standard toilet tank and contains a complete aquarium setup inside that's capable of handling a fresh or saltwater system. It also holds 2.5 gallons of water apart from the aquarium, so flushing can proceed as normal. The display is removed from the tank for cleaning, and the toilet will work even when the display area is not in place.
The manufacturer notes the tank can also be left dry for other sorts of displays.
The Fish 'n Flush comes with gravel, two plastic 9-inch plants, a dual-filter system, LED lighting, a built-in feeder, fill valve, overflow tube, flapper, suction pump and two screws. The product retails for $299 and is available at www.fishnflush.com. -- Gina Spadafori
Settling fights between cats
A trip to the veterinarian can send a cat into a full-blown snit that can last for hours after the return home. The smells of a veterinary office can even set off other feline family members, who may become aggressive toward the returnee.
Let your cat pick the speed at which he settles back into the household after a trip to the veterinarian. When you get home, put the carrier down in a quiet place, open the carrier door and leave him alone. Your cat may stay in the carrier for a while, may head for the nearest bed to hide under, or may step out and be just fine.
To help "de-vet" the scent of the returnee so other family cats will settle down, try running a towel over the cat who stayed behind and then swiping it over the returning cat. -- Gina Spadafori
Know dog-park rules before you unleash
Dog parks are run by peer pressure, and it's generally a good system. But what about the problems that are more about common sense and common civility? These things pop up now and then, thanks to people who may lack both.
The biggest lapse in common sense: leaving a choke collar on your dog after you take off the leash. The moving ring can be easily caught on something -- on the tooth of another dog in play, for example -- and once that happens, the natural tendency of an animal to pull away from danger puts into play the natural tendency of the collar to choke when tightened. This situation is dangerous, both for the dog and for anyone who tries to free him, who may be bitten by the panicking pet.
Problems with civility come from people who allow their dogs to annoy other pets or people. Sometimes a dog will just get it in his head that he's going to pick out one person or pet to pester. If your dog is ruining the enjoyment of the park for another user, get out your leash and call it a day, or at least engage your pet in a game of fetch on the other side of the park.
Then there are the people who seem to have neither common sense nor common civility: the ones bringing dogs that get into fights. Dogs who are flat-out aggressive have no business being uncontrolled anywhere, including a dog park. The solution for these dogs is easy: Keep them muzzled in the dog park or keep them away.
But because some people seem to ignore the danger their dogs present, the final call on dog park safety is up to you. If the situation doesn't feel safe, get your dog and go home. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
While stunningly beautiful fish tanks are what catch attention, many people are still content to have a small setup with just a goldfish or two. People who have fish reported the kinds they kept (multiple answers allowed):
Tropical 43 percent
Goldfish 38 percent
Other 20 percent
Cichlids 7 percent
Pond-kept 7 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Variety prevents finicky felines
The feline nose guides blind, deaf newborn kittens to their first meal. They return to the same nipple each time by scent memory. At 4 to 5 weeks, kittens can begin solid food.
Cats recognize four basic tastes: sour, bitter, salty and sweet, with the latter the weakest of the four. Food temperature is important to cats. They are hunters, not scavengers, so a warm meal is more natural for a cat than a cold one. Warming a meal to roughly body temperature increases a cat's interest in the food.
Kittens develop taste and shape preferences to food early. Introducing a variety of food shapes and tastes before 6 months of age can help prevent a finicky eater.
(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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