Have you thought about adopting a cat this year? Whether you are looking for your first cat, a companion cat to one you already love or an addition to a busy, active household, now's a great time to bring home a shelter cat.
If you think of shelters as gloom-and-doom places, you might be surprised at the changes in many shelter facilities. For cats, especially, the days of sterile, stacked steel cages are giving way to colony cat rooms, where the animals can relax and show off their loving personalities.
Still, I know going to a shelter can be overwhelming, since you can't take them all home. But if you think about what you're looking for in a cat, go in with a plan, and listen to your heart and your head, I bet you'll find the adoption option is easier and more rewarding than you think.
There are advantages to adopting from a shelter, and saving money is one of them. Adult pets are usually spayed or neutered before they're made available for adoption, and that's real savings. The cats you see usually also have been vet-checked, vaccinated and, in some shelters, evaluated for temperament. In many shelters you'll find staff members and volunteers who are familiar with each cat's personality and can tell you which ones are lap-sitters, which are playful, which ones like kids and dogs, and which ones would rather live without them.
Another plus is the variety of cats you can find: longhaired, shorthaired, tabby, calico and sometimes even pedigreed cats, especially popular breeds such as Siamese and Persian. Yes, that's right: If you've always dreamed of having a chatty Siamese, you can find one in a shelter, especially if you broaden your search by using Petfinder.com.
Want more reasons to adopt from a shelter? Many shelter cats are already familiar with home life because that's where they came from, often ending up in a shelter through no fault of their own -- especially in this economy. They're cool around kids or dogs, and they know the litter box routine. I'm no fan of declawing, but if you believe you must have a cat who is declawed, there's a good chance you can find one at a shelter.
Before you go, get a picture in your head about what you want in a cat. Lap-sitter or lively? Cool with kids and dogs? Chatty or quiet? Some shelters start with adoption counseling first, then introduce you to the cats who are the best matches. Other shelters give you a chance to look the cats over and visit with them first, then help you choose the one cat who's right for you.
And if your shelter doesn't have adoption counseling? Look beyond the cute and think of the home you're providing. If yours is a three-ring circus with boisterous children and lots of other animals, you'll want to consider those bold, friendly cats who seem to be handling the shelter environment well. If you have a quiet home, look to the shy cats who may just need time to relax and look around in a new home. That cat can also be a good choice if you enjoy the feline presence but would prefer not to have one who's "in your face" all the time.
Most important, look past appearance and "see" with your heart what's really there. Behind a plain-vanilla exterior of a cat who has been overlooked by so many, you may discover a sweet pet with the purrfect personality. Those cats are the keepers, no matter what they look like.
Which leads me to the best reason of all for adopting a cat from a shelter: that warm, fuzzy, tingly glow you get from giving a home to a cat in need and hearing him purr as he settles into his new digs -- after you get your veterinarian to check him over of course!
(Video bonus: Training expert Mikkel Becker shows how to teach your dog that running away is not acceptable (vetstreet/ train/how-to-keep-your-dog-from-running-away)
Let your cat win
laser pointer game
Q: Are laser pointers safe? My cat really goes crazy when I get his out to play. -- via email
A: As with so many other things, I have to give an answer and a caveat. For many cats, laser pointers are wonderful for getting in a good workout. For indoor cats, especially, pretty much anything that gets a cat moving is a good thing. But for some cats, these toys have been blamed for the development of compulsive behaviors, such as excessive grooming.
The worry most people have regarding safety is about the laser itself. Of course you shouldn't shine the light into your pet's eyes (or your own) on purpose, but you don't have to worry if the beam hits an eye for a split-second in play.
The potential problem with these toys comes because the cat can never "win" the game. Even if a cat catches the moving dot, there's nothing there. The cat gets all worked up with no resolution -- every time. Even in the wild, a hunting cat will catch the prey now and then. But there's no catching that alluring, fast-moving red dot!
Although most cats will wind down from their hunting high with no harm done, some will redirect their frustration in ways that can hurt themselves or others. There's an easy way out of the problem, however. After you've used the laser pointer to exhaust your cat (up and down stairs can be fun -- StairMaster for cats!), switch to a toy that can be caught and "killed," such as one on the end of a fishing pole, or a stuffed mouse. Your cat can then wind down with the satisfaction of having won the game, with "dead prey" to show for his hunting prowess. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
can be good pets
-- Rats can be clever, playful and affectionate pets, perfect not only for responsible older children, but also for open-minded adults. When purchased or adopted from reputable sources and kept in good health, these pets usually live two to three years. Domesticated rats come in many colors and patterns and can learn tricks as easily as many dogs.
-- Raw vegetables and fruits are a wonderful treat for dogs. Veterinarians often recommend carrots and apple slices as a substitute for commercial treats, especially for dogs who are pudgy. (Another easy weight-loss trick involving vegetables: Substitute thawed green beans for part of your dog's daily food ration. They'll make your pet feel full without adding much in the way of calories.) Not all fruits and vegetables are good for your dog, though, and some may even be toxic. The absolute no-no's include raisins and grapes, avocados, onions and many nuts. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian or visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center online (aspca.org/apcc).
-- We all know that yawning is contagious among people, but dogs can also "catch" our yawns. When dogs yawn on their own, they're more likely doing it in an effort to relieve stress than to signify that naptime is coming.
-- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.