We're on the verge of kitten season now, which means we'll soon be getting questions about feline pregnancy from people who often had no idea they'd be midwife to pets who are often not much more than kittens themselves.
Typical questions include: How long does a cat's pregnancy last? (On average, 66 days.) Do I need to help my pregnant cat with delivery? (Yes, usually by leaving her alone.) How do I know if she's close to delivering? (Watch for enlarged nipples and the secretion of a tiny amount of milk.)
The question we're asked least often is the most important of all: How soon after my cat gives birth can she be spayed? (As soon as the babies are weaned -- the sooner the better!)
Studies show that 80 percent of the cats and dogs in the United States and Canada are spayed or neutered. If your cat is not among them, here are a few facts to consider:
-- A neutered tomcat is less likely to roam, less likely to fight (and less likely to cost you money to patch him up), and less likely to spray urine to mark his territory. He's more likely to live longer, because the cat who's looking for a mate is really looking for trouble. If a car doesn't get him, infectious disease (spread by fighting or mating) or cancer may.
-- A spayed female is a more attentive and loving pet, because her energy isn't constantly directed toward finding a mate. (Cats are in heat nearly all the time until they become pregnant.) If you spay your cat, you protect her from some cancers, infections and from sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
"Spaying" and "neutering" are the everyday terms for the surgical sterilization of a pet. Neutering -- or altering -- is also used to describe both procedures. The technical terms for the two operations are "ovariohysterectomy," for the female, and "castration," for the male -- which pretty much explains why "spaying" and "neutering" are the preferred terms.
Although these procedures are common, many people don't understand what's involved. Spaying is the removal of the female's entire reproductive system: The uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries are taken out through an incision in the abdomen. Some veterinarians use stitches that have to be removed in about 10 days' time, while others use those that are absorbed into the body. Recovery is fast, taking just a few days, during which you should limit your cat's activities -- no jumping or boisterous play.
In neutering, the cat's testicles are removed through incisions in the scrotum, the pouch holding the testicles. These incisions are generally left unstitched in this relatively minor procedure. Post-operative care normally involves keeping the incisions clean and dry. Some veterinarians recommend keeping the cat inside (if he is not already an indoor pet) and using shredded newspaper in place of litter until the incisions close, which usually happens within three to five days.
Most of the people who write us about pregnant cats are dealing with "oops" litters, the result of not getting their cat to the veterinarian in time. We sure hope they'll be calling to schedule an appointment for neutering as soon as those babies are weaned.
If you're allowing your cat to have "just one litter" because you want a kitten, please adopt a kitten instead. You'll find plenty to choose from at any shelter or rescue group. Many of them won't find homes, so please help in any way you can.
Cats can stay if baby on way
Q: I'm getting contradictory information on my cats now that we're expecting our first child. And it all seems credible. My doctor says I can keep my cats, if I'm careful, and if my boyfriend handles the litter box. But I've seen other doctors who disagree and also caution that cats hate babies and will kill them, if they can, out of spite.
Cat Web sites say keep the cat, but I'm not sure they have my baby's interest as top priority. I'm not sure you do, either, but I'll ask anyway. I want to keep my cats, after all. -- T.I., via e-mail
A: Your own physician is up on the current thinking in this area. In fact, you don't need to find a new home for your pet when a baby's on the way, no matter what well-meaning relatives and friends or anonymous Internet advisers may say to the contrary. Cats do not maliciously smother or suck the breath out of babies, and the litter box risk can indeed be managed.
The myth that cats have it in for babies probably came from their natural curiosity to investigate a new addition to the family, coupled with the tragedy of what's commonly known as crib death. We can easily understand how, in generations past, people may have seen a cat in the crib -- perhaps sniffing at a baby's milk-scented breath -- and later found a dead child and then tried to find an explanation for the loss by linking the two events together.
We now know there's no connection. But common sense still dictates that no animal be left unattended with an infant or small child. And, of course, before the baby arrives, safety dictates that someone other than the expectant mom clean out that litter box to reduce the risk of birth defects caused by the parasites that may be in the cat's feces.
As our Dr. Marty Becker says: Get rid of the risk, and keep the pet. It's good advice, as is taking your cats to their doctor to make sure their own health is tip-top to further protect your human family. -- 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" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Vaccine offers hope for cancer
-- Dogs with cancerous growths in their mouths have the chance at an increased life expectancy after tumor removal with the help of a new therapeutic canine melanoma vaccine, Oncept. The vaccine contains a substance produced by human DNA that is similar enough to dog's genetic material that it targets canine melanoma cells, but is different enough to be considered foreign by the dog's immune system, resulting in a potent immune response against canine melanoma cells. Dogs with stage II or III melanoma typically survive six months or less after tumor removal, but dogs vaccinated with Oncept had a longer survival time than those not vaccinated, according to DVM360.com.
-- Cats should be hissing at the news that dog owners spend an average of $219 on veterinary visits each year, while cat owners spend an annual average of $179. So says the American Pet Products Association.
-- Sperm are good team players in animals who mate with several males in quick succession. Sperm will make a collaborative push with their relatives for the egg, sometimes with hundreds of sperm linking to each other in an effort to cut out the competition. The strategy has risks, as the linking can set off a chemical reaction that can leave an individual sperm infertile, but the success of one is worth the loss of some. Previously, researchers assumed sperm linked with their closest neighbors, but Harvard University found that even sperm from two brothers would not link, but would link up only when from the same male.
-- People who are overweight are more likely to have overweight dogs, although fat cats don't correlate with an increased weight of an owner, according to a study published in Public Health Nutrition. More than half of all of pets in the United States are overweight. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Make tracks to adopt a retired racer
Greyhound racing is a dying sport, and as more tracks close for good, more former racers are looking for their forever homes. Should yours be one of them?
Do you want a dog who is quiet and clean in the house, takes long, peaceful naps on the sofa, gazes adoringly into your eyes but never pesters you to throw the ball, and is always up for a walk or a run? If that describes you, there's a good chance you'll be happy with a greyhound.
Despite their image as driven athletes, greyhounds are in fact what their owners commonly call "40 mile-an-hour couch potatoes," and while the speeds may vary, the general concept is dead on. Retired racing greyhounds make wonderful pets and require much less exercise than you might expect. Regular walks and two or three good runs in a safe area each week should keep your sleek hound happy and healthy.
Weighing in between 60 and 85 pounds, greyhounds have long legs and necks that make them seem larger than they are. Their short coats mean grooming needs are minimal: A quick swipe every other day with a "hound glove," a two-sided combination of glove and brush, is perfect for removing dead hair and minimizing shedding.
Renowned for their gentle temperaments, greyhounds are wonderful family dogs. As with any of the quick-reacting "sighthound" breeds, there could be problems with cats and small dogs, so be careful if you have other pets. Greyhounds are usually good with other dogs and with children.
Looking for more greyhound tips and information? Be sure to visit www.adopt-a-greyhound.org. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
What sends pets to the vet
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) has released its list of the top medical conditions for which claims were submitted last year for dogs and cats. VPI received more than a million claims in 2009.
The most common ailment in dogs? Ear infection, coming in at nearly 68,000 claims and an average cost of $100 per visit. And in cats? Lower urinary tract disease, with a total of 3,700 claims at an average cost of $260 per visit. Here's the complete list:
Top conditions in dogs
1. Ear infection
2. Skin allergy
3. Skin infection, or hot spots
4. Gastritis, or vomiting
5. Enteritis, or diarrhea
Top conditions in cats
1. Lower urinary tract disease
2. Gastritis, or vomiting
3. Chronic renal failure
'Blocked' cats need vet's help
In cats, obstipation is described as the inability to defecate, a very painful and serious condition that demands prompt veterinary attention. The causes of this backup are not well-understood, but they result in intestines that become dilated and unable to push stools out of the body normally.
If your cat is straining or crying out while trying to defecate, or if you notice an absence of feces in the litter box, your pet has a potentially serious problem. Oddly, this blockage may initially appear as diarrhea because your cat's body, so irritated by the retained feces, may generate lots of watery fluid or mucus to try to cope. This discharge may seem like "ordinary" loose stools when passed.
Any changes in your cat's litter-box habits need to be investigated by your veterinarian, the sooner the better, and obstipation is no exception. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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.