By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Can cats and dogs get along? While cats and dogs scheming against each other is a comedic staple, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.

Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can be difficult, though, as anyone who's tried to introduce them knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an interspecies truce.

Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.

Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.

If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.

If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet's obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash and be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a "sit" or "down" position while on that leash.

For the cat's comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.

After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat's room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use "sit-stay" or "down-stay" to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don't force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.

Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.

When the dog isn't interested in bothering the cat and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.

It's not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your pets' lives.

 

Turning Theory Into Practice

In May, Clara became a member of my family.

I had waited to get another cat until the passing of a dog who couldn't be trusted to leave a kitten alone. I always meant to get another cat after Andy died, but one thing or another always came up, and time just moved on.

Finally, the stars aligned and a kitten came home.

She started her life in one room, and I was prepared to have slow, supervised introductions to the other pets. Things progressed quickly, though, and within two weeks Clara had full range of the house. The dogs either ignored her or were happy to be with her. We're still working on her interactions with the parrot.

It's a joy to have a cat in the house again. -- Gina Spadafori


Q&A

Convert your cat after you move

Q: My cat loves to be outside. We will be moving to another apartment soon, and she'll have to stay inside. What can I do to make her want to stay inside? -- K.M., via e-mail

A: Moving is absolutely the best time to convert a free-roaming cat to an indoor-only one. That's because when you move to a new home, your cat is completely uprooted from her familiar territory. What she's given in her new home is all she'll come to know, and she'll soon accept the new living space as her own.

But you must keep her inside, with no exceptions. If you let her out, she'll want out more -- and maybe take off looking for her old digs.

Because cats are so territorial, some cat lovers find that their free-roaming pets keep showing up at their old home after a move. Converting your cat to an indoor pet is the best thing for her health and safety, but there's more to it than just keeping the door closed.

Make sure your cat has lots of things to keep her active and interested. Spend more time engaging her in interactive games by using a "cat fishing pole" and other toys that require your involvement. You'll both get more out of the fun!

Invest in a good cat tree, a tall one with cubbyholes for hiding and platforms for looking down on the world. In addition to the tree, offer other opportunities for approved scratching, which is natural, healthy behavior for your cat.

Turn her into a huntress. Use "food puzzles" to add a degree of difficulty to eating, and offer small portions of food in places that require effort to find. Provide outdoor space safely. If you can't screen in a porch or balcony, provide a cat-sized perch near a screened window. Fresh air is always appreciated.

Boredom and obesity are the enemies of indoor cats. It doesn't take much more than imagination to turn your apartment into a jungle gym for your cat. Once you've done it, she won't miss the outdoors anymore -- and she'll live a longer, healthier life for being spared the dangers that lurk beyond the door. -- Gina Spadafori

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.


THE SCOOP

Bird diet? Mix it up

No matter what your bird thinks, seeds are not the best diet for pet parrots, a group that includes everything from the tiniest parakeet to the largest macaw.

An all-seed diet contributes both directly (through malnutrition) and indirectly (by weakening the bird, making it easier for infectious diseases to take hold) to a serious reduction in the lifespan of any pet bird -- by half or more in many situations.

What should you be feeding him instead? Variety is the name of the game when it comes to feeding your pet bird. This means in addition to offering high-quality pelleted food, you should be offering a wide array of healthy "people food" -- fresh vegetables, fruits, pasta, bread, scrambled eggs. Whatever has good nutrition for you is also good for your parrot.

If your bird is a "seed junkie," talk to an avian veterinarian about a strategy for converting your pet to a base diet of pellets complemented by a variety of healthy foods. As for seeds, they're still OK to give your bird as an occasional treat. Even better: Use them as an incentive in training. -- Gina Spadafori


GOOD BEHAVIOR

Cats often want to be 'only child'

A cat will typically adapt better to being an only pet than a dog will. One reason may be that wild dogs hunt in packs, whereas cats hunt alone. Like some people, many cats don't like to share things or have their routines interrupted. And, like some people, the older the cat, the more set he becomes in his ways.

How would you like your family to bring home a companion sight unseen? Ideally, all relationships start with a trial run (for example, dating comes before the decision to enter into a long-term relationship). Thus, if you can't bring a second cat home on a trial basis, you may be better off with just one. A little loneliness beats being unhappy and stressed-out all the time.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)


DOG CARS

Little Honda a good Fit for city dogs

Two days after the Honda Fit Sport was delivered -- just days before Memorial Day weekend -- gas prices hit an all-time high. That alone drew more than a few interested looks and a handful of questions every time I got out of this little hatchback.

You are not going to be able to fit a quartet of Labradors inside, along with all the crates and other gear that goes with a weekend of dog activities. And you probably won't be loading up your four-legged family for a cross-country trip in the Fit. But as one of the new class of fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive and easy-to-park "city cars," it's hard to top this brave little Honda.

The Fit's interior feels incredibly roomy, and the seats are extremely comfortable, with good lumbar support. Airbags all around help to even the playing field when you're on the road with lumbering beasts that could crush you like a bug. The Fit feels tight, handles nimbly and just plain makes you smile to be in it.

The cargo space is surprisingly generous and versatile. There's no problem fitting in a pair of small dog crates or one large one. For more than one big dog, though, you'll have to go to harnesses for safety -- there just isn't enough room inside for side-by-side crates for big dogs.

Still, the Fit could be all you need for most of your dog-hauling errands. After all, most trips to the veterinarian's are one dog at a time. And for the money you save driving the Fit around town, you could pop for a rental on something bigger when planning a road trip. The Fit starts at $13,500 for entry-level models; the Sport model I tested was $16,500. Fuel efficiency is 31 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

(Pet Connection's Gina Spadafori reviews new vehicles for their canine suitability on www.dogcars.com


PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Reasons for seeing the vet

According to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., the top 10 reasons why dogs go to the veterinarian (based on insurance claims) are:

1. Skin allergies

2. Ear infections

3. Stomach upsets

4. Urinary tract infections

5. Benign tumors

6. Hot spots

7. Sprains

8. Arthritis

9. Enteritis

10. Eye infections

Source: www.petinsurance.com


PETS ON THE WEB

Fans of ferrets get help online

In California, you don't see a lot of ferrets. That's because of the state's stubborn refusal to offer legal entry to a pet whose popularity elsewhere is without dispute.

That doesn't mean there aren't ferrets in California -- there are estimated to be tens of thousands of these pets secretly kept -- or that people in that state and across the continent don't need help caring for these animals.

The Everything Ferret Web site www.everythingferret.com lives up to its name, with lots of help for ferret fans. Nothing fancy here: The site owner wants people to think before getting a ferret and to care for the pet properly thereafter.

There's good information on how to feed and house a ferret, and also when veterinary care is needed. Ferret lovers also share pictures and stories, and help each other over the rough spots of life with these lively relatives of the weasel. -- Gina Spadafori


Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

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