Animal Doctor

September 23, 2011

Dear Dr. Fox: I adopted two kittens from our city shelter, about 10 weeks old and from the same litter.

Now they are a year old, and I want to thank you for writing that it’s best to have two cats, ideally from the same litter. Jim and Jane get on so well as playmates; they always sleep together, groom each other and look out for each other.

Is there more than the fact that one is male and one female (neutered and spayed) to account for their very different personalities? Jim is more the introvert, and Jane is the tease and into everything.

J.M., Alexandria

DF: Cats “mirror” each other’s behavior and provide reciprocal social enrichment and emotional stimulation. As for their very different personalities, one can rule out environmental influences, because they were raised together. It is primarily their genetic differences that determine how they react, as well as their likes, dislikes and motivations.

The more one gets to know different cats and becomes attuned to their subtle behaviors, likes, dislikes and quirks, the more one realizes what complex personalities they possess, often paralleling those we see in our own species.

CHEAP FOOD: PETS PAY

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 3-year-old female beagle. I feed her food from a pet store and try to get the best, as far as I can tell.

I am feeding her Taste of the Wild Sierra Mountain Canine Formula with roasted lamb, and she seems relatively healthy.

My question relates to an article in a recent issue of Consumer Reports. Its point was that most store-bought foods are about the same, as long as they are marked as “complete and balanced.” Therefore, it said, a pet owner might as well go ahead and buy the cheapest brand, per ounce or pound. This usually wound up being a store brand from a very large chain.

D.M., Friendsville, Md.

DF: I hold Consumer Reports in high regard, but its “Tame Your Pet Costs” (August 2011) report was a washout in its comparison of manufactured pet foods.

Advising not to pay for “premium” pet food, as long as the cheaper brand is labeled “complete and balanced,” “total nutrition” or “100 percent nutritious,” is misleading, at best.

Diet-related pet health problems are all too prevalent and costly, and one of the best ways to “tame your pet costs” is through good nutrition. The health risks of genetically modified ingredients in major pet food brands is a serious issue.

I endorse the magazine report’s caution about buying pet health insurance, which, in the magazine’s analysis, is rarely worth the price. And I applaud that it advocates pet adoption rather than the purchase of a purpose-bred kitten or puppy, and emphasizes the advantages of adopting an adult animal.

LOVE TRIANGLE

Dear Dr. Fox:

My boyfriend says that I spoil my dog and therefore she will not learn to respect him. She growls at him, especially when she’s on the sofa with us.

I say she’s just jealous, and scolding her to get off the couch will make things worse.

Help! My boyfriend is almost at the point of saying it’s either me or the dog.

V.S., St. Louis

DF: You are not the only single person with a jealous-dog dilemma. Dogs (and cats) will often demand the undivided attention of their guardians when they see a visitor, male or female, as a rival for attention.

Reassurance, rather than discipline, is called for, along with the understanding by your boyfriend that this is a natural reaction and not a sign of disrespect or an indication that you care more for your dog than for him when you don’t shoo the dog away.

It’s possible that you have overindulged your dog and that she knows no boundaries. If so, you must teach her that growling is unacceptable and that she is not allowed on the sofa when she growls. Banishing a dog is, for a pack animal, the severest of reprimands.

Dogs growl for different reasons that you must determine: Is your dog growling for attention? If so, then simply ignore her and then pet her when she’s quiet. If it is a threatening or warning growl, there could be something in your boyfriend’s behavior or body language that you don’t see but that the dog either perceives or misperceives as threatening or intimidating. Dogs can be remarkable judges of human character.

Encourage your boyfriend to walk the dog on a leash with you and also alone. Have him learn to play with her and groom her.

Love and understanding are called for where there is insecurity, for man and beast alike.

PAY NOW, SPAY LATER

Dear Dr. Fox: I am having an argument with the staff at our local animal shelter. The shelter insists that any kitten I adopt must be spayed/neutered and vaccinated before I take it home.

I say that’s too stressful (after reading about vaccination risks on your Web site). I would bring in the kitten to be spayed or neutered after a few weeks, getting them used to living with me first. What is your opinion?

M.L., Miami

DF: I understand and respect the adoption protocols of animal shelters and local humane societies, which have evolved because so many people never followed through on the promise to have their animals spayed or neutered after adoption. I also agree with you.

There should be some flexibility and room for negotiation regarding adoption protocols. I would have you pay in advance for the spay/neuter and let you bring in your kitten for the operation after it has lived with you a few weeks.

Part of the adoption fee should include the cost of a home visit by a shelter staff member to check up on the care of adopted cats and dogs. Many shelters and pet fostering and adoption networks do this, but others seem to want to adopt to anyone who comes in, because they lack funding, staffing or sufficient space for all of their animals.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate

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