Best-selling author of more than 20 books including, latest, Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual (2012)
Founding Member, The Dr. Oz Show’s Core Team Oz and member of Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Panel
Practicing veterinarian at Lakewood Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho
Adjunct professor at his alma mater, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and also at the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine at both Colorado State University and the University of Missouri
Wife, Teresa, Two Grown Children
Raising a Happy and Healthy Cat
The 700 Club
CATS ARE NOT JUST “SMALL DOGS”
“Life with a cat is special, if you know what to expect and how to play the feline rules. Dogs can bend to human will. Cats? They’ll bend a little, but not much,” says Dr. Marty Becker. He’s known as, “America’s Veterinarian,” and has spent much of his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. He says cats are surrounded by myths and misconceptions. His goal is to help separate fact from fiction when it comes to this interesting and intriguing animal. “Remember, cats are not small dogs,” he says, as a first piece of advice. “When you are reading about different cat breeds or reading the personality descriptions of cats at a shelter, you may come across some that are described as ‘doglike.’ It’s true that some cats, like dogs, will follow you around, play fetch, or go for walks on leash. But that is where the resemblance ends. Cats differ from dogs in many ways.” One difference is their nutritional needs. While dogs can exist on a diet that contains large amounts of grain, cats need meat protein to be at the top of their game. Dr. Becker says a cat’s physiology is different, too. “Cats metabolize drugs differently than dogs or people. It’s very dangerous to give a cat the same drug you or I or the small dog next door might take, even if it’s for the same type of problem.” He says never apply a flea or tick treatment or a shampoo made for dogs to your cat. That being said, Dr. Becker says it is very important to treat your cat with a flea and heartworm preventative. “Cats are at risk from heartworm, even indoor only cats, and cats are twice as likely to get heartworms as leukemia,” he says, noting that pretty much everyone realizes the risk for cat leukemia, but not heartworm. “Also, you need to do parasite control on cats to protect human family members from disease.” He says recent studies suggest exposure to cats with heartworm can cause a variety of health problems in human family members.
Dr. Becker suggests regular veterinary visits to make sure your feline is healthy and for vaccinations to prevent future diseases. But many cats have anxiety about seeing the doctor. In cases such as these, Dr. Becker suggests putting your cat into a carrier. The secret to success with a carrier is to train the cat from the time it’s a kitten to feel comfortable in the carrier. A few ways to do this would be to line the carrier with a blanket or towel, put treats inside and an occasional surprise, and leave it sitting open around the house for your kitten to explore. He also recommends a product called Feliway, which is synthetic version of a feline pheromone that will make your kitten feel even more comfortable in the setting. Then, when it’s time to load up the cat for the vet appointment, the ride won’t be as scary. In addition to regular vet care, Dr. Becker says oral care is key. If daily teeth brushing seems impossible, Dr. Becker says there are other ways to take care of your cat’s teeth, such as putting an additive into the drinking water or giving the cat an edible toothbrush.
BREAKING DOWN THE MYTHS
Dr. Becker says if you’ve never had a cat, you may have some misconceptions about the feline species. Here are eight myths you may have heard about cats, along with the real scoop on what they’re like.
1. Cats Are Standoffish: Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that cats in general are less “needy” than dogs, but most cats love spending time with their people, whether they’re playing with toys or just sitting in a lap motor-purring. Know that being a lap cat is genetically influenced. Feline behaviorists used to think you could turn any cat into a lap cat, but it’s not so. When cat lovers understand that sitting within eighteen inches is being friendly enough for some cats, they’ll feel better about not having a full‑on lap cat and accept their pets as they are.
2. Cats Are Not Affectionate and Don’t Need Attention: Cats are great companions for people who are away from home during the day, but on the whole, they like it better when you’re around. It’s not unusual for cats to follow their people around like little shadows and to hop into a lap just as soon as one is available. Cats can even develop separation anxiety if they are left alone too frequently or for long periods. But don’t expect all cats to enjoy prolonged stroking and petting—sometimes it overstimulates them. Massaging often works better than endlessly stroking the fur.
3. Cats Require Access to the Outdoors to Be Happy: With the right environmental enrichment and regular playtime and exercise, indoor cats can live happily and never miss the great outdoors.
4. Cats Can’t Get Along with Dogs: Foster interspecies friendships by introducing cats and dogs at an early age, while they are still open to new experiences. Even older cats and dogs can become best buds, though, with proper introductions. Don’t just throw them together like you would two stepchildren from polar opposite parts of the world. That can be stressful and dangerous for all involved. Planning and patience win the day.
5. Cats Can’t Be Trained: You can teach a cat just about anything you want to teach him, as long as it doesn’t require opposable thumbs or barking for a treat. The benefit of training is that it is an interspecies communication system. Once you learn how to train your cat, there’s almost no behavior problem you can’t overcome.
6. Cats Spread Toxoplasmosis and Women Who Are Pregnant Should Get Rid of Their Cats to Protect the Fetus: Not true at all! With certain easy precautions, the risk of infection to the developing fetus is virtually nil. Have someone else clean the litter box, and if that’s not possible, wear gloves when you do so. Cook meat well, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling meat.
7. Cats Will Harm Babies by Sucking Their Breath or Lying on Them and Smothering Them: This mistaken fairy tale of killer cats probably began because cats enjoyed curling up near babies and sharing their warm, soft bedding. When the babies died from other causes, the cats got the blame for the death. Of course, you should always supervise your baby and cat when they are together, and it’s best that they don’t share a bassinet.
8. Cats Eat Grass and Other Plants Because They’re Sick: Cats love the taste and texture of grass. Grass also provides roughage that helps to work food through the system, so eating grass needn’t be discouraged. In fact, if you have an indoor cat, you should plant grass for him or her.
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