Dear Heloise: My new kitten has 23 toes! His name is Baxter, and the seven toes on his front right paw and six toes on his left front paw are not considered unusual for a New England cat. The five toes on both hind paws are considered rare. It is thought that extra-toed cats were brought over on sailing ships in the early 17th century because they were better mousers. Cam Campbell, Derry, N.H.
Cam, the picture you sent shows that your kitty is one darling cat! Cats with extra toes are called polydactyl, and usually it is considered a fault in a breed and a genetic variation. Most of these cats have 18 toes -- five on each front foot and four on the back -- and the cats can have additional toes on the front and the back. They look like they are wearing big, furry mittens, and I think they look adorable.
We thought we would ask our readers to send in pictures of their polydactyl cats. Tell us how old they are and how many toes they have. We will pick out several and send those readers a set of Heloise pamphlets, and we will feature the photos on the Heloise Web site. Send your photo (by mail only, please -- don't e-mail them) to: Heloise/PolyCats, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Texas 78279-5000.
Visit my Web site, www.Heloise.com, and click on This Week's Pet to see this adorable cat. Heloise
Dear Heloise: You wrote that guinea pigs are wonderful pets for children. I bought a darling, big, long-haired one for my three daughters from an ad in the paper. Evidently, he had been mistreated by his former owners. He was scared of everyone and ended up biting one of my girls. Tell new owners to be watchful until they know just what their new pet's disposition is. Beth Bell, Placentia, Calif.
Beth, this is very good advice for people bringing a new pet, young or old, into their lives. Remember, too, that many animal-rescue organizations have all kinds of pets for adoption, not just dogs and cats. Heloise
Dear Heloise: If you have breeding birds, don't use any items in their nest except for nesting material that you can buy in a pet store. Using other items, like cotton balls, lint, etc., can be dangerous for the birds because it can wrap around their legs.
I have raised several sets of baby zebra finches. When the babies hatch, I have found that if I give them moistened dry dog food, the babies grow big and fat in no time. I think the parent birds appreciate it, too. Kim Durango in Texas
We decided to check with our friend Dr. Tom Vice, who is an avian specialist. He said this is OK but suggested mixing half dry dog food and half dry baby cereal. Moisten well, and the babies will love this mixture! Heloise
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King Features Syndicate