How Long Pets Live; Cleaning Teeth; A Quiet Beagle; Biting Cat: Reader Questions


Q: We just had our cat put sleep; he was 20 years and four months old. How long do cats and dogs usually live? — L.S., Bradenton, FL

A: I’m so sorry to hear about your cat, but at least he enjoyed a long life, longer than most. Increasingly, though, some cats these days are living (and in good health) to age 20 or longer.

While there is no national database on pet health, Banfield the Pet Hospital maintains their own amazing data, which includes information from over 800 hospitals providing an accurate snapshot. According to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2013 report, pets are living longer: The average lifespan of a cat in 2012 was 12 years, which has increased by 10 percent since 2002, adding a full year to a cat’s life. The average lifespan of a dog in 2012 was 11 years, a four percent increase adding a half a year to an average dog’s average lifespan.

Additional findings in the 2013 report include the impact of spaying and neutering on a pet’s lifespan. Data reveals neutered male cats live, on average, 62 percent longer than unneutered males, and spayed female cats live 39 percent longer than unspayed female cats. An increase in longevity was also seen in dogs. Neutered male dogs live, on average, 18 percent longer than their intact counterparts, and spayed female dogs live 23 percent longer than unspayed females.

We also know that by being proactive by taking a pet for regular preventive checkups to maintain good health and diagnose illness early is a good idea. Also, by discovering illness early, it may be easier (and less expensive) to treat, adds to longevity and quality of life. I believe quality of life is what’s most important for our pets; it’s not how long they live but how well they live.


Q: I read your recent column on preventive care. Does teeth cleaning matter? — R.S., Fort Lauderdale, FL

A: “Absolutely,” says Dr. Kate Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. “The secret to effective oral care is starting with a clean mouth. Otherwise, you may be brushing on abscesses (infected teeth). It may feel like taking a scrub brush to an open wound. It hurts, so no wonder the pet doesn’t take to brushing.”

Knutson, of Bloomington, MN, is an enthusiastic supporter of x-rays for pets’ teeth for similar reasons that human dentists x-ray our teeth. Since x-rays in animals are done under anesthesia, Knutson notes that it doesn’t cost much extra money to then have clinic staff conduct a cleaning.

“Appropriate dental care prevents bacteria from building up, which could otherwise lead to disease,” she adds. “Also, living with bad teeth and gums is painful. For example, many cats (and small dogs) aren’t being finicky, the truth is it may hurt to eat.”


Q: Why doesn’t my beagle bark? He howls (a lot) and makes sounds like he’s talking, but he doesn’t bark. — F.G., Knoxville, TN

A: Howling is the default for many beagles. Or maybe your pup is doing sort of a howl/bark fusion you call a howl. You didn’t mention your dog’s age. Sometimes it takes a while for puppies to “grow into” their bark. Newly-adopted dogs may take some time to muster the confidence to bark.

Believe me, I know a few beagle owners who wish they were in your shoes!


Q: My friend adopted a kitten off the street. Socks will sometimes become very still, squint her eyes, stalk and attack my friend, even biting so hard that it bleeds. Sometimes she’ll even bite my friend’s face. My friend has used a water bottle to squirt the cat, which sometimes works, as it does keep her off counters. Socks used to sleep with my friend, but now hides in the basement at night. My friend is terrified. Can you shed any light on what’s going on here? — V.M., Cyberspace

A: A: “Cats, especially kittens love to stalk and pounce, it’s what they do,” says cat veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Colleran of Chico, CA. “Cats who may not have had the advantage of their mother and littermates as teachers may not know not to bite down so hard. It’s important that your friend play with the cat using an interactive toy (such as fishing pole-type toy with feathers) and never use your hands or feet as play objects, even with young kittens.”

Your friend is already familiar with some of the cues, stalking, squinting; others are tail flashing, the ears rotating back, the cat crouching – the instant you see any of these, toss a toy (squeaky mouse toy or a toy that moves, like a little ball) in one direction for the cat to chase while you slowly walk off in another direction. Keep the toys in your pocket so you’re always ready.

As for biting at your friend’s face – not sure what’s going on – but your friend needs to prevent that opportunity.

Colleran, who is the American Association of Feline Practitioners spokesperson for Cat Friendly Practices, is somewhat concerned that the cat hiding overnight, and why that might be so. She wonders if perhaps your friend is being more punitive than squirting water. It may be as simple as her screaming at her cat for hurting her (which is understandable) and squirting the water, and as a result the cat has associated the unpleasant experience with the owner. Since hiding is a new behavior, she also wonders if there’s a medical explanation, so seeing your veterinarian makes sense.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services