My Pet World: Persians still reign as most popular cats in America

As the Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in America (according to American Kennel Club registration statistics), the Persian is our most popular pedigreed cat.

The Cat Fanciers' Assn. (CFA) recently announced annual registration numbers for 2010. It so happens that CFA President Jerry Hanza has been a Persian cat breeder for 15 years.

"Persians are clearly good friends, they want to be with their people. Mine enjoy my lap while watching the (New York) Jets games," says Hanza.

Persians have held the title as America's top cat since the 1970s.

"Of course, they know how beautiful they are," says Joan Miller, CFA vice president and chair of outreach and education. "Persians are just glorious. Some are so beautiful they can make your heart stop. They enjoy being groomed, which is required for Persians, and often purr while we brush them." Miller says that when she had Persians, she found brushing them therapeutic.

The Maine Coon has been the second or third most popular cat breed since the 1990s, and now stands at No. 2. Miller suggests that Maine Coons' ability to live well with others plays a role in their popularity, since an increasing number of cat homes (well over a third) also have a canine, and most homes with a cat actually have at least two cats.

"They're big and bold," says Miller. "Some men want a macho cat." Still, despite their imposing appearance (tipping the scales at about 20 pounds), Maine Coon cats are particularly gentle and a good choice for children.

No. 3 on the popularity list goes to a breed called the Exotic.

"An Exotic is pretty much a Persian cat with short hair," says Hanza. "A good choice for people who like the Persian laid-back personality but don't want to deal with the grooming." Their coats have a fuzzy texture, with a unique, soft feel.

Since 2006, the Ragdoll has been in the CFA top-10, but never before as high as their current rank at No. 4. The name derived from their being so affectionate; they relax like ragdolls in the laps of their favorite people.

"Though not as long as a Persian's, they have a lovely, long coat," says Miller, who's been an all-breed judge for 29 years. Ragdolls come in many colors, and tall have blue eyes.

The Sphynx peaked this year at No. 5 on the CFA list. Though many people still aren't familiar with the name, they do know Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers movies. Since first appearing on the big screen in 1997, this hairless cat has climbed in popularity.

"They're interesting," says Miller. "People either like the look or they don't. But I will say once you get to know some Sphynx cats, you'll understand what the fuss is about. They love their people, are very, very bonded. They love attention and are very responsive." Among the top five most popular breeds, Sphynx are the most active.

Two breeds have fallen out of the top five. Siamese cats now rank at No. 6. The Abyssinian is now the seventh most popular breed. Both Siamese and Abbys are considered very active cats.

"Maybe people don't want all that activity," says Miller. "But actually, I know these breeds remain popular; it's just that some others are today more of an interest."

Despite its popularity, the trendy Bengal is not accepted as a CFA breed. Originally developed from crosses between domestic cats and the Asian leopard cat, the Bengal is the only domestic cat that can have rosettes, like the markings on Leopards, Jaguars and Ocelots.

"We are concerned about the breeding of the Bengals and Savannah cats (a cross of wild Serval cats and domestic cats)," says Miller. "The early generations don't make for very good pets. If you desire a domestic cat with a wild look, there's the Ocicat (No. 19 on the CFA popularity list), or adopt a cat from a shelter and save a life." There are some reports that Bengal and Savannah cats are over-represented with behavior problems.

There are 41 CFA registered breeds. (No. 41 is the little known Chinese Li Hua), "powerful cats with bold mackerel tabby markings," says Miller. "They've lived in a wide area of China for centuries and are known as good hunters."

Learn more about all 41 breeds at http://www.catscenterstage.com.

Question: I've thrown in the towel. I can't get our cat, Chico, to go to the vet. I don't get it because once he's there he tolerates the exam. But as soon as the carrier comes out of the closet, Chico checks out. It's impossible to get him into the thing anymore. Any advice? — V.S., Orlando, Fla.

Answer: Many cat owners can sympathize with your problem. The good news is, desensitizing and counter-conditioning most cats to their carriers is possible, although it takes time.

Begin with a new carrier, and choose a type with a top that can be lifted off, so you never have to "dump" Chico out the door.

Leave the carrier out as if it's a piece of furniture. Periodically, toss treats inside, or place a sampling of tuna, sardines or salmon inside. It's best if Chico doesn't see these goodies are coming from you. And don't overdo it; you don't want a tubby tabby.

The idea is for the carrier to become an inviting treat dispenser. Once Chico feels more comfortable about the carrier, begin feeding him inside the carrier.

Once you've established this routine, toss a treat inside the carrier, let Chico run in, and close the door. Then pick up the carrier and calmly put it down. Open the door and place Chico's dinner inside. Eventually, he'll learn that a meal follows a trip in the carrier.

Cats can be trained with a command to run into a carrier, knowing dinner will follow. Or Chico may even remind you it's time for dinner by meowing from inside his carrier!

Next, put Chico in the carrier and place the carrier in the car. Turn on the ignition. If Chico panics, back up a step; you don't want to reward that behavior. Hopefully, Chico will be fine driving to the end of the driveway, then returning home for a meal. Again, the hope is Chico will associate a trip and the carrier with mealtime.

After a few driveway jaunts, try running a quick errand with Chico in his carrier. My guess is, he'll accept the ride. Spray Feliway into the carrier 30 minutes before placing Chico inside. By this point, you may even be asking him to jump in the carrier on your request.

Q: We rescued a kitten 12 years ago, and she's always been traumatized at the vet. We even give her medication before visits. The last vet visit showed signs of a heart gallop, for which she now takes medicine. It seems to make sense to avoid stress to the heart. So what should we do about veterinary visits? Also, our cat only accepts pills from us; she really doesn't trust others, not even the pet sitter. How can we get her to take medication when we're traveling? - M.A.N., Las Vegas

A: Ask your vet if the medication your cat is taking can be compounded to taste like liver, tuna or chicken. If so, go to one place in the house each day and make that the place you give your cat her pill. The idea is to develop a routine, which your pet sitter can then follow. Even if your cat is afraid to appear when the pet sitter is there, she'll scarf down the pill later.

As for vet visits, applied animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin, author of "Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification in Dogs and Cats" (CattleDog Publishing, Davis, CA, 2009; $119.20), suggests making appointments when there are few barking dogs around, say first thing in the morning. Your vet might consider using Feliway in the exam room (a 'knock off ' of a calming feline pheromone). Wait until Chico's had some time to acclimate to the room before the exam. Put a towel with your scent and Chico's on the exam table. Everyone should speak softly, and dim bright lights, if possible.

The exam might be conducted where Chico is calmest (even if that means removing the top of the carrier while Chico remains inside). Putting a towel gently over a cat's head can also be soothing. If these steps fail to calm Chico, look for a vet who makes house calls.

Q: When I lean over to pick up my Shi Tzus, one backs away. Why? How can I help my dog feel OK with being picked up? — S.M., Augusta, Ga.

A: It could be this dog is remembering a bad experience; he may have dropped or handled roughly in the past. Reaching over a dog, especially a small one, is intimidating. Some dogs are too "goosey," too wiggly, too antsy; they just don't like to be picked up.

Whatever the source of your dog's worries, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, of Westwood, Kan., a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior, suggests telling your dog to sit for a treat. Then, briefly reach down as if you were going to pick him up, but don't. Instead, offer another treat. Gradually, reach closer, even touching the dog. Finally, if your dog is no longer acting hesitant, squat and have the pooch come to you and sit. Now, try picking him up. If he acts cool about it, put him back down and offer a treat. If he panics, you've come too far too fast.

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