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Balance activity, affection for cats

Question: I have three cats, and they're all driving me crazy. Suddenly, all three constantly crave my attention, as if they just can't get enough. They play with one another, groom one another and get along just fine. I have only two hands to pet them with, and I live alone. Do you have any idea why this is happening? —V.H., Lexington, Ky.

Answer: "Activity and affection need to be in balance," says Nashville-based cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat. "You do only have two hands, so while you're petting one cat, make sure the others have something else to do, so they're not competing for your affection. Create a more enriching environment, whether it's those DVDs with birds and lizards which some cats will watch, putting paper bags out for the cats to jump into, or food puzzles." Also, rotate the cats' toys. And be sure to use an interactive toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric) for five to 10 minutes once a day.

Q: Our 9-year-old Lab mix has always had a good temperament, except that he's apprehensive around people he doesn't know. Lately, however, his behavior around my wife has changed. When she's sitting in the chair at night, he lies nearby. When she gets up, he barks and acts aggressively toward her. Sometimes, he just lies in the middle of the floor and won't let my wife go by. How can we break this bad habit? — K.P., Cyberspace

A: I'm concerned that your dog's behavior is not a habit, but rather an emotional response or a response to a medical issue.

"First, visit your veterinarian to rule out a physical cause," advises Dr. Melissa Bain, assistant professor of Animal Behavior at the University of California College of Veterinary Medicine-Davis. If there's no physical explanation, bring in expert help from a dog behavior consultant (www.iaabc.org), veterinary behaviorist (www.dacvb.org), or member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (www.avsabonline.org).

"Meanwhile, your job is to keep your wife safe," Bain says. "In this instance, instead of walking over the dog, and before your wife gets up, she could call the dog to her, ask him to sit, and then offer a treat. Now, she can go wherever she wants."

Q: I've heard that grapes and raisins are bad for dogs, but what about cats? My cats like to play with grapes, as if they were ping-pong balls. They bat them across the kitchen floor. I don't believe they've ever eaten the grapes. Should I put an end to this game? — N.C., Birmingham, Mich.

A: According to recent research, including a soon-to-be-published study from the ASCPA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., grapes and raisins can cause renal failure in dogs, though the reason is unknown.

There's no data indicating whether cats suffer similar medical problems. However, veterinary toxicologist Dr. Steve Hansen, executive director of the Animal Poison Control Center, recommends against cats even batting grapes across the floor. Should a cat squish a grape, the cat will groom and ingest some of the fruit. "It's not worth the risk, until we understand more," Hansen says.

Write to Steve Dale, My Pet World, 2225 Kenmore Avenue, Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207 or petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state.

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