Pet Connection

Cut the Costs, Keep the Pet

Universal Press Syndicate

In recent months the worsening economy has had us all tightening our budgets. Pet lovers are no exception, and although our animals provide us with comfort and companionship during difficult times, there's no doubt that many people are looking to make sure they're getting the most "bang for their buck" when it comes to caring for their pets.

The most important advice we can offer you is to focus on prevention. Keeping pets in good health is the best way we know of to prevent illnesses that can make your pet miserable and cost you a lot at the veterinarian's. Likewise, working to prevent accidents, such as keeping your cat inside and your dog on-leash in high-traffic areas, will spare you the most expensive pet-related spending of all: the late-night visit to the emergency veterinarian.

Some more tips for keeping costs down include:

-- Take the weight off your pet. Extra pounds increase the likelihood of serious health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer in pets just as they do in people. And yet few people recognize when their pet is overweight -- or even grossly obese!

If your pet is normal weight -- you should be able to feel ribs -- measuring food, keeping treats to a minimum and working in a daily exercise session will keep him that way. If your pet is overweight, get your veterinarian's help to reduce weight slowly to avoid the health risks of sudden weight loss, especially in cats.

-- Change your buying habits. You can save money buying the largest bags of food or litter, or get case discounts on canned goods. Split your dry food purchases with family or a friend, and store your portion in an airtight container. (Do keep product info from the bag, though, in case there are questions or problems.)

Other purchases should be considered carefully. Replace such things as collars when wear first shows -- you don't want a collar to break and your dog to get loose in a dangerous situation. Buy quality, not silliness: One good collar is a better value than a lot of shoddy but cute ones.

Be careful when cutting down on toys, though: Good chew toys have saved many an expensive pair of shoes.

-- Get the do-it-yourself bug. Most people can learn to handle basic pet grooming at home, from bathing to nail trims. If nothing else, you can probably stretch out time between professional grooming for high-maintenance pets with some at-home care. Check your library for grooming guides and home in on breed-specific tips with an Internet search.

And don't forget the value of bartering: Ask about trading goods and services for your pet's needs.

-- Poison-proof your home. Go through your home with an eye toward possible hazards. From food hazards such as raisins, Xylitol-sweetened goodies and chocolate to houseplants such as lilies, many poisoning risks can be prevented just by removing them. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are also a danger, and these are best dealt with by putting them behind cupboard doors. (The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center offers information on all toxic risks to your pet at ASPCA.org/APCC.)

-- Don't neglect preventive pet care. Vaccinations are no longer recommended annually for most dogs and cats, but that's not a good reason to skip your pet's yearly vet check -- twice a year is recommended for senior pets. These "well-pet" examinations can spot little problems before they become expensive ones.

Don't be shy about asking your veterinarian to work with you on keeping costs down. For example, ask your veterinarian to give you prescriptions for medications to be filled elsewhere or to match prices. Comparison shopping for medications may offer considerable savings, especially if there's a generic equivalent available.

We also recommend looking into pet health insurance, because no pet lover wants to say no to a pet who can be saved because the money isn't there for the care. Because plans differ, do your research before buying to make sure the most likely health problems of your pet are covered.

(Share your best tips for saving money on pet care! Drop us an e-mail at petconnection@gmail.com. We'll use the best tips in a future column and feature them on our Web site, PetConnection.com.)

Q&A

Redirect chewing for better puppy

Q: Is there anything I can do with a puppy who chews on everything she sees? I'm at my wit's end. -- B.C., via e-mail

A: With time and guided effort, you can help your puppy learn to chew on the right things and to leave your stuff alone.

Some puppies chew to alleviate the discomfort of teething. Try offering your pup a bowl of ice cubes or a washcloth that's been soaked in water and then frozen. Take the washcloth away as soon as it thaws. There are also commercial dog products made for freezing, with one part rubber chew and one part reservoir for filling with water or broth.

Most puppies chew to explore, or to blow off steam when they are not getting enough daily mental and physical exercise. Before feeding your puppy, play easy games of "toss the kibble" so your puppy gets used to finding food. Put your puppy's kibble into a food puzzle, instead of using food bowls, to add even more activity. Confine your puppy to a small laundry room or puppy-proofed area when you are gone to prevent chewing mistakes, and rotate chew toys to provide variety.

When you are home, put your puppy near you on a mat with a long-lasting rawhide chew. Prevent your puppy from wandering off by attaching a leash to a heavy desk or table or the chair you are sitting on. Ignore any tantrums by not making eye contact. Wait until your puppy settles down. Then praise her in a soothing voice or give a loving back rub in exchange for resting quietly and for chewing on that rawhide. Focus your efforts on praising your puppy for chewing on what's right and prevent your puppy from chewing on what's wrong.

Teach your pup to "get your chew" by praising her for taking it from you and for picking it up from the floor when you say, "Get your chew." When your pup learns what that means, she'll also learn that getting the chew is the ticket for your attention.

You cannot expect a young, untrained puppy just to hang out. Help her learn good behavior by providing daily walks to satisfy natural canine instincts to explore and exercise. If you meet your pup's basic needs and provide gentle, proven behavior training, you will have less destructive chewing and overall better behavior.

Most people do not know instinctively how to teach puppies to meet basic canine needs within a human household. Early, off-leash puppy socialization classes are the best place to learn from professionals.

If you continue to feel frustrated, do yourself and your puppy a big favor by asking your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist for some individual help with raising her. It's a good investment in a lifetime of good behavior. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

PET BUZZ

Yawn at your dog and get yawn back

-- Yawning is contagious among people, and now researchers from Birkbeck's School of Psychology at the University of London have shown for the first time what pet lovers have known all along -- that dogs can also catch our yawns. Researchers said the presence of contagious yawning in dogs suggests that dogs possess the capacity for a rudimentary form of empathy.

-- The American Veterinary Medical Association has found that veterinarian salaries increased from 2005-2007, although most surveyed said they don't expect the income growth will continue from 2007-2009. The survey also showed that male veterinarians are still paid more than female ones.

-- The state with the highest ranking for the occurrence of animal abuse is Kentucky, followed by Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi and North Dakota, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The top five states for protecting animals are Illinois, Maine, California, Michigan and Oregon.

-- Japan's pet population has exploded, but pet owners are now facing a pricey tax on their furry friends. The proposed tax on the purchase of animals will be put toward microchipping, ID tags, funding for animal shelters and an awareness campaign of animal welfare. The number of pet dogs has doubled in the last decade, reaching 13 million and surpassing the number of children under 12 in Japan. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

THE SCOOP

Grooming helps with cat's health, happiness

Considering how much time your cat spends grooming, do you really even need to be involved in the process? Yes! Taking care of your cat's coat keeps her healthier, makes her easier to live with and strengthens the bond between you.

Although many cats -- typically longhaired, older or obese -- must have some help with their grooming, any cat can benefit from human intervention. Even if your cat isn't a high-maintenance type with silky, long hair, helping with grooming offers some benefits to you, as well:

-- Shedding. The fur you catch on a comb or brush doesn't end up on your sofa cushions, sweater or the cream cheese on your bagel in the morning.

-- Hairballs. Regular grooming by you keeps the volume of fur swallowed by your cat to the utmost minimum, and that means fewer hairballs on your rugs.

-- Bonding. Although your cat may not like you getting involved in grooming at first, if you're persistent, especially with the praise, your cat eventually comes to enjoy the time you spend together at this important task.

-- Money. Paying attention to your pet's body not only helps avoid some health problems, but it also helps you detect signs of illness early, which is better for both your wallet and your pet.

-- Allergies. Studies have shown that good grooming, including regular baths, can help allergy sufferers cope with their pets. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

A single bird will do

Birds of a feather don't flock together, at least not in the homes of bird lovers. Trends in pet ownership suggest that most people who want a bird will have just one at a time. Number of birds kept:

One 52 percent

Two 25 percent

Three or more 23 percent

Source: American Pet Products Association

ON THE WEB

Delta celebrates animal-human bond

The Delta Society (deltasociety.org) is an organization dedicated to making the most out of the natural bond between people and animals.

The group provides information and resources on a variety of topics, including dogs who serve people with disabilities and animal-assisted therapy programs, such as those that take animals into nursing homes or provide therapeutic horseback riding for disabled children and adults.

Delta also offers a variety of publications and recognizes groups and individuals with a variety of annual awards. If you're looking to get started in volunteering, the site shows you how to get started.

The site is clean, well-designed and easy to navigate, and offers lots to learn on this extraordinary group. A scrolling news feed on the home page tracks stories about the value of animals in our lives. -- Gina Spadafori

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

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