By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Q: You recently wrote that half of all cats are fat. Is that because they're indoors all the time? If so, shouldn't they at least spend some time outside; it seems beneficial for the exercise. -- G.C., Tulsa, OK
A: Keeping cats indoors is not the problem, however there are a myriad of other factors related to feline obesity.
For sure, life is safer indoors, where cats are not being chased and perhaps killed by coyotes, hit by cars, or threatened with infectious disease from other cats (to name only a few outdoor hazards). Kept inside, cats are also not killing songbirds or using a neighbor's garden as a toilet.
Some cats beg for food, and even some who don't still get an inordinate amount of table scraps. After all, to a 12-pound cat, eating an entire slice of lunch meat is pretty much akin to any of us eating a whole turkey.
However, one of the most significant explanations for overweight cats turns out to be a not-so-politically-correct topic to discuss in some circles. I endorse early spay/neuter (cats enjoy health benefits of being spayed/neutered, cats that are "fixed" are far easier to live with, and population control is important). However, these early spayed/neutered cats turn out to be hungrier (explaining what's sometimes inordinate begging). Specifically, spay/neuter surgery can trigger up to a 30 percent drop in energy needs and up to a 20 percent boost in appetite.
Here are some ways we can prevent overweight cats in the first place:
-- Outdoors, cats spend 17 percent of their time hunting and traveling. Inside, they merely saunter over to the food bowl. I'm a proponent of feeding cats at set times (two to four times daily), and hiding about 5 percent to 10 percent of their daily food in food puzzles and toys scattered around the house. This allows even indoor cats to do some "hunting."
-- Interactive playtime with a fishing pole-type toy is very important for exercise, and can enhance the human/animal bond. Reasonably short (5- to 10-minute) play sessions are fine, plus a bit more for kittens. Also, rotate toys so they're more interesting.
--Another reason not to leave food out all day is that in multi-cat homes, there's no way to know which cat is getting the most food. Of course, cats are very adept at training us to become automatic food dispensers.
--In Europe, diet is also used as a tool to prevent obesity in spayed/neutered cats -- an idea I like. Royal Canin just launched a new line of spayed/neutered formulas in the U.S. This new food contains controlled fat levels and a unique blend of fibers to support the decreased energy and increased appetite of spayed/neutered cats. Cats on this diet won't be as predisposed to be overweight, and may not beg so much.
--Last year, nearly half of all cats didn't see a veterinarian. Weight gain in cats is gradual and therefore hard for most owners to observe. Also, there's an apparent perception issue of what is "normal weight." According the Banfield State Pet Health 2012 Report, the number of overweight/obese cats has increased 90 percent in past five years -- yet about 70 percent of cat owners with an overweight or obese cat believe their pet is just the right weight!
Q: I've sprayed myself with mosquito spray to prevent West Nile Virus. Should I do the same for my dog? We live in a wooded area, and I've seen swarms of mosquitoes around my dog. -- V.D., Des Plaines, IL
Q: My two dogs love to be outside. Could they be infected with West Nile Virus? -- K.B., Spring Hill, FL
Q: We have an indoor/outdoor cat, and she came home sneezing recently. I worry about the West Nile Virus. Can cats get WNV from mosquitoes?
A: This is only a sampling of the questions I've received pertaining about whether or not West Nile Encephalitis Virus can affect dogs and cats. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and veterinary parisitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, it's very possible for cats and dogs to get the disease, but for the most part they don't get sick.
One recent finding, according to the CDC, is that a very small percentage of infected cats may exhibit mild, nonspecific symptoms during the first week after infection, most only showing a slight fever and some lethargy. Sneezing was not reported. If you cat continues sneezing, contact your veterinarian.
When mosquitoes bite us, we scratch because it itches. That's also true for pets. Dryden, a Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology at Kansas State University, says it's reasonable to not what your pets bitten, especially if you live in an area where there are many mosquitoes. Ask your veterinarians about flea/tick preventive products also labeled to repel mosquitoes. Examples include Vectra 3D, ACTIVYL Tick Plus and K9 Advantix. Some reports indicate Avon Skin So Soft might also have some repellency affect.
Pets groom themselves, so never spray your pet with a pesticide intended for human use.
"No product will repel all mosquitoes," Dryden notes. "While West Nile isn't a worry, we know heartworm disease kills dogs and cats. Even if you are using a product to repel mosquitoes, pets still do require heartworm prevention."
Q: How can I tell if my rabbit is a male or female? I've turned Bunny upside down to look, but I can't tell. I wonder if our Bunny is really a Bob. -- P.W., Cyberspace.
A: I suppose this is the ultimate rabbit test. It takes an experienced handler to know where to look and what to look for to determine the sex of a rabbit. See a veterinarian experienced with rabbits to check things out.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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