By Gina Spadafori
It's not often that I have to take my own advice on something I've never done before, but that's exactly what happened recently, when I adopted a middle-aged cat and brought her home to live with an established middle-aged cat who didn't seem that interested in sharing his space.
The introductions were by the book -- my own book, "Cats for Dummies," to be precise -- and now both cats are happily co-habitating, enjoying the company not only of each other but also of my two dogs. The bed is a little crowded with all four of them on it, but I don't mind: It's worth it to see them all so happy together.
If you're thinking of adopting another adult cat, there is never a bad time. Here's how to ease the strain on new cat, old cat -- and you.
Successful introductions require laying the groundwork before you bring home a second cat. Your current cat and your new one should be spayed or neutered to reduce hormone-related behavior challenges. Your new pet will also need a visit to the veterinarian before coming home to be sure he's not bringing in parasites and contagious diseases that can put your established pet at risk.
Prepare a room for your new cat with food and water bowls, toys, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Then, start the introductions by pushing no introduction at all.
Bring the new cat home in a carrier and set the pet in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged pet on his own, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. Let your resident cat explore awhile and then put him on the other side of the door and close it. When the new cat is alone with you in the room, open the carrier door. Leave the new cat alone in the room with the room door closed and the carrier door open, and let him choose to explore in his own way and time.
Maintain each cat separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. If there are dogs in the house, put a baby gate across the door to give the cat an escape route where the dogs can't go. Don't force any of the pets together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares. As for dogs, let the cat decide how much to interact, if at all.
As the days go by, you can encourage both cats to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. If they're willing, feed them in ever-closer proximity, taking your cue from the cats as to how quickly to proceed.
Some cats will always maintain their own territories within the house -- I've known pairs who happily maintained a one upstairs/one downstairs arrangement for life -- while others will happily share everything from litter boxes to food dishes. Let the cats figure it out, and don't force them to share if they don't want to. Some cats will always need separate litter boxes, scratching posts, bowls and toys -- and providing them is a small investment if it keeps the peace.
After six weeks, mine have -- and probably will always have -- separate litter boxes, but they share food, water dishes and space with obvious contentment. In fact, my established cat seems so happy for the company of his own kind that my only regret is not adopting another cat years ago. - By Gina Spadafori
Straining cat needs to see vet
Q: Our cat seems to be constipated. In the litter box he's straining, but I'm not finding results. Can I just give him a laxative? -- via email
A: A litter box isn't just a stinky chore that appears on the to-do list. It's an accurate gauge of your cat's digestive health. And, sometimes, no news is bad news.
While an occasional mild problem can often be resolved by adding fiber (canned pumpkin) and fluid (canned food, which has a higher water content than dry), it sounds as if your cat's problem is more serious. 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
Vets, shelters don't always see eye to eye
- Vetrinarians support animal shelters and animal shelters support veterinarians -- but there's a gap in perception regarding how much mutual support there is. A survey by the CATalyst council (catalystcouncil.org) found that shelters say they refer new adopters to local veterinarians always or often 73 percent of the time, but veterinarians believed the figure was 42 percent. And 41 percent of veterinarians say their profession supports shelters, but shelters don't always support veterinarians. In turn, 35 percent of shelters surveyed thought shelters support veterinarians, but veterinarians don't always support shelters.
- Want to know what's in your intestines -- or your dog's? The VIN News Service notes that for as little as $99, researchers will survey your bacteria and issue a report. VIN's Edie Lau says the information has more value as a curiosity than a clinical aid, but the long-term value of the surveys may indeed offer some insight on the benefits and care of co-habitating bacteria. More information is at indiegogo.com/americangut.
- At its most basic, the beak on our pet parrots consists of two hard structures, the upper and lower mandibles, along with an amazingly agile and strong tongue. Beaks are remarkably well-designed for one of their most important tasks: cracking, crushing, prying or otherwise destroying the protective coatings around many of the foods parrots like to eat. Like everything else on a creature designed for flight, the beak is surprisingly lightweight considering its strength -- a hard shell of constantly growing material (similar to that found on antlers) placed over a hollow, bony structure. If a beak were made of solid bone, its weight would probably force a bird to spend his life on the ground, and on his nose. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Date Published: 1/14/2013 11:29:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 01/14/2013
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. COPYRIGHT 2013 - 2014 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE; 4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; 816-932-6600.
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