Dear Dr. Fox:
How can I get my two cats to play together more? One likes only to chase a laser pointer and the other enjoys only a lure on a fishing pole.
I try to engage both cats in these games, but one just sits and watches or goes away. Sometimes they play together, chasing and wrestling, mainly in the evening.
A.J.L., Neptune, N.J.
DF: The two rehabilitated feral cats with whom I live — Mr. Mark Twain, who likes dangling lures and ones that move across the floor, and Mr. Pinto Bean, who prefers to chase a laser light or race through the house chasing imaginary things — show how different cats’ play preferences can be. Pinto has long legs and is a racer. Twain has stubby legs and is a pouncer.
They essentially showed me how to set up a game for two when both tried to grab a lure that I poked on a long cane under a throw rug. They also enjoy hide-and-seek under a large towel. Their latest morning game is for Pinto to crawl into a rolled piece of carpeting, secured with duct tape, while Twain waits to ambush him or jump on him inside the tube. Additional creative cat games, which can be used to measure a cat’s IQ, are detailed in my book “Supercat.”
Dear Dr. Fox:
My mother says that my two 1-year-old gerbils have pinkeye and that I should give them eye drops. Is that safe? They have red stuff in their eyes every morning but act normal.
DF: Gerbils normally secrete a sticky, reddish-brown material from the corners of their eyes called porphyrins as part of their body chemistry and metabolism.
I appreciate your mother’s concern, but she should know that if your gerbils are not rubbing their eyes or blinking a lot, and do not have red inflammation of the whites of their eyes or skin inflammation around the eyes, all might be well.
Stress can cause excessive secretion of porphyrin. In rats, it can take a more liquid form and seem as though there is bleeding from the eyes.
When excessive secretion occurs, coupled with nasal discharge and upper respiratory tract irritation and infection, it’s often associated with moist and moldy bedding material. Gerbils require sand bathing to keep their coats from becoming oily.
Keep your pets in a dry environment and provide soft clay or washed, dry sand as bedding rather than abrasive wood chips. Wipe their eyes as needed with a cotton ball moistened with a few drops of eyedrops made for humans. Never use plain water.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I need to settle an argument. My friend says dogs scrape after they urinate to cover their tracks, like a cat burying its feces. But dogs don’t really cover up their deposits, so what’s going on? Are they lazy or too distracted to do a thorough job?
V.W., Medford, Ore.
DF: Dogs do not bury their urine or feces as cats do. In the wild, cats do this to keep potentially harmful rivals unaware of their scent, especially close to their dens or safe resting sites.
For domestic cats, the home is their den, so they normally bury all that they excrete in the litter box. Like dogs, cats will mark their territories with urine as a signal to other animals. Clawing a scratch post leaves scent-marks from their paws.
Some wild cats, such as leopards, rake a tree with their claws after spraying urine on it. This gives us clues about why many dogs scrape and kick the ground with their hind paws after urinating. They are not performing a half-hearted attempt of burying: They are leaving extra marks for other dogs that pass by to see and smell. The scent on dogs’ feet might add social information as to who left the mark.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a young lovebird that is in our living room with us night and day. I worry that she doesn’t get enough sleep when we stay up late watching television or playing cards.
My husband says we need only to cover her cage when we go to bed. I think we should cover it by 8 p.m. in the winter and 9 p.m. in the summer and put her in a quiet room for the evening.
B.M., Middletown, N.Y.
DF: You are right to be concerned about the quality of life you are providing for your captive bird.
First, you might want to consider getting a cage mate for her. Lovebirds are social creatures that thrive best in big cages and safe flight rooms with another bird.
Interrupted sleep is stressful for many creatures, so if you and your husband are night owls, I would get your bird used to being taken into an adjoining quiet room with the lights out and her cage covered to give her 10 to 12 hours of rest.
The quality of light is important for all captive birds, which can develop bone, joint, hormonal and other problems when deprived of natural sunlight’s beneficial rays. I would advise you to look into fluorescent full-spectrum lighting to place over your bird during the day, such as Vita-lite or Ottlite.
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, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.