Q I rescued a 6-year-old part Siamese female cat about six months ago. I started noticing she has a long ridge of fur along her spine when she is relaxed or sitting, similar to that of a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. I don’t know if there is a connection, but she is also polydactyl on all four paws. I checked online, but there are no explanations for this trait.
A While there is no cat breed that has a ridge along its spine as a breed trait, there are other cat owners who report that their felines have a narrow ridge of hair that stands up neatly along their spines while resting.
I have seen this narrow ridge of hair, mostly on short-haired cats. So, while not a specific breed characteristic, it may be something genetic in how the hair grows that results in a sort of “cowlick” for cats. This should not be confused with a cat raising its hackles, which is the hair around the shoulders, along the spine, and along the tail that stands up when a cat is aroused or in fear.
For my readers, polydactyly, which means “many digits,” is the congenital anomaly of having more toes than normal. Typically, cats have 18 toes, five on their front paws and four on the back paws. The record for polydactyl cats, however, is 28 total toes. As far as I know, there is no genetic connection between polydactyl cats and the gentle ridge of hair along the spine.
Q My husband and I rescued a 6-year-old yellow lab/greyhound mix. He must have been abused because he has scars on his front legs and he was very skittish in the beginning. We love him so much, but he doesn’t know how to play. We throw the ball or Frisbee and he just looks at us. He doesn’t play with other dogs at the dog park. We feel so sorry for him. Can we still teach him to fetch a ball or stick?
Artie and Stella, Smithtown
A When dogs are stressed, they don’t play. If your dog had a rough start, he probably didn’t learn to play as a puppy. Not every dog will play fetch, but there are other ways you can teach your dog to play.
Get a clicker at the pet store, and start training him to “sit,” “down” and “stay,” so he learns that the “click” means he will get a treat for doing something you ask him to do.
Once he understands the meaning of the clicker, teach him how to play hide and seek. Hide somewhere in the house or out in the yard and call your dog’s name. When he comes and “finds” you, give him a treat. He will begin to learn that running and playing with you is fun and rewarding.
Next, introduce a KONG wobbler or puzzle toy filled with treats that he can push around the house or paw open to retrieve a treat. Click and treat when he touches the toy. Or, give him a tennis ball with a little peanut butter on it. Click and treat when he touches it.
Eventually, toss the tennis ball with peanut butter a few feet away. When he goes to get it and touches it, click and treat. He may eventually bring the ball back to you for more peanut butter, thus learning fetch, but he also just might chomp on the ball for a while. Either way, you are showing him the many ways to play.
Q I have two rescue cats and spend a lot of time playing with them. One of our games is playing with a string that I drag around the floor, and they chase it. My question is, why do cats drag the string or toys to their water bowl? It’s cute but curious.
Laura, Long Beach
A It’s not unusual for cats to transport playthings to their water or food bowls. No one knows for sure why they do this, but some people think cats are mimicking nurturing behaviors, like a mama cat carrying her kittens to safety.
Since both male and female cats do this, however, I think it might be an instinctive “hunting” behavior where they kill and carry their prey to a safe location. Cats consider their food area as safe territory. So for now, it’s a “cute but curious” behavior.