A FEW SIMPLE STEPS WILL HELP YOU ADOPT A HEALTHY YOUNG CAT
Kittens can be so cute -- they make us gasp in delight, and every shelter and rescue group has plenty to choose from at this time of year -- colors, coat lengths and markings galore. But how do you know you're picking a healthy baby?
General impressions are important. You should get a sense of good health and vitality from the kitten you're considering adopting. The baby should feel good in your arms: neither too thin nor too fat, well put-together, sleek and solid. If his ribs are showing or if he's potbellied, the kitten may be suffering from malnutrition or worms. Both are fixable, but signs of neglect may indicate deeper problems with socialization or general health.
With soothing words and gentle caresses, go over each kitten you're considering from nose to tail, paying special attention to the following areas:
-- Fur and skin. Skin should be clean and unbroken, covered thickly with a glossy coat of hair. Part the hairs and look for signs of fleas: The parasites themselves may be too small and fast for you to spot, but their droppings remain behind. You shouldn't count a cat out because of a few fleas, but a severe infestation could mean an anemic kitten, which could be a problem if you're not ready to care for a sick youngster right off the bat.
-- Ears. Ears should be clean inside or, perhaps, have a little bit of wax only. Filthy ears and head-shaking are signs of ear mites, which can require a prolonged period of consistent medication to eradicate. Again, it's fixable, but you need to be willing to work at it.
-- Eyes. Eyes should look clear and bright. Runny eyes or other discharge may be a sign of illness. The third eyelid, a semitransparent protective sheath that folds away into the corners of the eyes nearest the nose (also called a "haw"), should not be visible.
-- Nose. As with eyes, there should be no discharge. The nose should be clean and slightly moist. A kitten who has difficulty breathing or is coughing or sneezing may be seriously ill.
-- Mouth. Gums should be rosy pink, not pale, and with no signs of inflammation at the base of the teeth. The teeth should be white and clear of tartar buildup.
-- Tail area. Clean and dry. Dampness or the presence of fecal matter may suggest illness.
Of course, even a healthy kitten will need your veterinarian's help to stay that way. Schedule a new-kitten exam and preventive-care consultation as soon as you get your new family member adopted.
Remember that health is only part of the picture when it comes to raising a kitten. Always keep in mind the cat you want your kitten to be, and create a socialization checklist that gives you homework for shaping your kitten's personality and perspective on life one day and one baby step at a time.
Look for every opportunity to shape your kitten into a relaxed, confident, friendly, affectionate and well-behaved member of your family. Hand-feed your kitten before and in between meals. When your kitten is already relaxed, use special treats to introduce new experiences such as gentle handling, wearing collars, harnesses or getting one nail trimmed. Think of teeny-tiny baby steps and of creating a positive first impression. Provide your kitten's favorite treats and finger-scratch your kitten in favorite places to help offset small amounts of stress. Help your kitten recover and relax by going slowly, without using any force.
Finally, ask your veterinarian for tips on how to raise a kitten who tolerates -- and preferably likes -- going in for wellness care. Too many pet owners say they don't provide this essential care for their cats because their pets hate the carrier, the car and the veterinary exam room. It doesn't have to be that way, so lay a solid foundation now for a lifetime of good care.
Donating blood can net
Q: Our veterinarian offers a discount on future visits for people who bring their dogs in to donate blood. I give blood regularly, so I lean in favor of my dog helping other dogs as I help other people. And yes, I have to admit the discount is appealing, too. But my question: Is it safe for my dog?
A: Yes, it is. The use of blood products for treating sick and injured pets has increased so dramatically that there is a growing shortage of canine and feline blood.
The donated blood is used in the same way that blood is used in human medical facilities: as whole blood, plasma and packed red cells. The blood is collected in sterile plastic bags and is handled and stored in the same way as human blood.
Although most stored blood comes from "professional" donors -- typically, dogs living in a veterinary hospital or, more recently, retired racing greyhounds kept in colonies as blood donors -- in some areas, canine blood drives are held. The blood is donated (you can't earn money from your dog's donation), but it's certainly for a worthy cause. And some veterinary hospitals also encourage ongoing donations as yours does, by offering a discount for regular blood donors.
In any case, donating blood is no more hazardous to pets than it is for people. Discuss your dog's suitability for the task with your own veterinarian.
Cats can donate blood, too, by the way, but that's usually not a job for pet owners to volunteer their cats for. That's because few cats like going to the veterinarian well enough for their owners to take them more than is absolutely necessary. Serving as a blood donor is typically the job of cats who live at the veterinary hospital for a while and then are placed in new homes after their service to other cats is over. These cats are great adoption prospects, since they're chosen for the work because they're typically friendly and easygoing. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Rhode Island latest state
to outlaw dog-breed bans
-- It's not often you can find near-universal agreement from veterinary, dog-trainer and animal welfare groups, as well as lawyers, on any subject, but there is one topic that seems to fit the bill: These professional organizations have come out against banning dogs based on breed alone. They argue that breeds typically banned out of fear of dog bites -- most notably pit bulls -- are hard to identify with certainty, and present no more danger than any other breed or mix. Instead, they push more effective policies aimed at reducing dog bites that focus on all dogs, not just a few breeds. For a while, it seemed like breed bans were picking up steam, but now the tide seems to be turning: Last month Rhode Island became the third state this year to prohibit municipalities from enacting breed bans, following Nevada and Connecticut. The newest law brings the total number of states outlawing breed-based bans to 16.
-- If your child loves pretending to be a veterinarian, better start saving up for college: Veterinarians say they chose their career early, falling in love with the idea of working to care for animals by the age of 9.
-- How many more ways have yet to be discovered about how remarkable dolphins are? A recent article on the BBC's website shared a study that says dolphins appear to call each other by name. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that a team of researchers from the University of St Andrews in Scotland found that the animals have a unique whistle that serves the same function as a name, and when that whistle is played back to them, they respond. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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.