Pet Connection

Catch It if You Can

MATS AND THROWS MAKE THE MUD OF MARCH EASIER TO DEAL WITH

March is when winter finally lets go, although usually not without a final blast or two. The start of spring means many things -- the first early blooms, longer, warmer days and a time to clean the house. But for dog lovers, there's one thing spring brings most of all: mud, mud and more mud.

The soupy remains of winter on the paws of our pets is the constant nemesis of all dog lovers, and it's never so bad as in the spring. The best way to keep floors clean is to never let them get dirty. And that means catching those muddy paws before they come inside. Here are some tips:

-- Use mats. Put washable mats both inside and outside the door. A small doormat can be jumped over, so go for something larger, at least during the rainy season. The wider the area of matting, the more chance you have of every paw hitting the mat at least once.

Outside the door to my backyard (currently known as The Swamp), I have a 3-foot-by-5-foot black industrial mat I bought at a warehouse store. It catches lots of mud, and it hoses off easily. The more attractive and traditional decorative doormat sits right on top of it, with another decorative mat on the inside of the threshold. Outside the dog door, the entrance ramp is covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting. Just inside is another mat.

-- Teach dogs to wait for wiping. It's not difficult to teach a dog to wait on the mat for a paw cleaning. If you're patient and positive, you'll be able to teach your pet to offer each paw in turn and stand patiently while you towel it off. One of my dogs used to be so good about this that he'd lift each paw by name: "Front. Now the other. Back. Other."

-- Save your old towels. When towels get too ratty for guests to see, save them for use with your pets. Old towels are great for wiping paws, drying fur and even wiping a muddy paw print off the floor.

My old towels have endured years of hot water and bleach. They're ugly, but they still do the job. You can also find super-absorbent towels and mitts made specifically for wiping paws, but I've always found old towels to be more than up to the task. If you do need to buy paw wipes, check prices on shop towels. Another option: Shammies, which soak up lots of water, can be thrown in the washing machine and air-dried in a jiffy.

-- Never let a mess settle in. If a muddy paw gets past you, don't delay your cleanup. While this isn't such a hard-and-fast rule for easy-clean surfaces like tile and hardwoods, it's an absolute commandment when it comes to carpets. Keep cleaning supplies well stocked and at hand, and be sure to jump on a muddy paw print -- or any pet mess -- before it can set. 

With 16 canine paws in my household, keeping on top of mud is a must. What the mats don't catch, I do, and the house stays cleaner for my diligence, even in the muddiest season of the year.   

Q&A

Finches are fun

and easy to keep

Image: finches

Caption: Because finches spend their lives in their cages, you'll want to give them as much room as possible.

Q: My 12-year-old daughter wants a pet bird. Can you recommend what kind? Something that's not too hard to care for, please. -- K.L., via e-mail

A: Zebra and society finches are the "easy keepers" of the finch group -- hardy little guys who'll bring energy and sound into your home.

They're not very expensive to acquire, set up or maintain. Unlike hookbills -- budgies, cockatiels and parrots -- who need and desire physical interaction, finches will be happiest if you leave them alone. That's really the only downside of having them as a children's pet, by the way: They're not the best choice for a child who wants a hands-on pet experience.

Since finches, unlike other pet birds, are generally always left in their cages, they're a good option for a multipet household. (In most cases, the cage will offer protection from cats.) Still, since predatory pets can be resourceful, you should probably keep finches in a room that you can close off when you're not around to supervise.

Because finches stay in their cages, get the biggest cage you can afford, with bar spacing close enough to prevent escape. Since cage-bound birds need to fly for exercise, choose a cage that's more horizontal than vertical, to give them room to flit from side to side. A reputable bird shop will be able to set you up with everything you need, including healthy finches. -- Gina Spadafori

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

THE BUZZ

Some spring flowers

pose pet health risks

-- Spring daffodils and tulips often look good enough to eat, but can be toxic when consumed by dogs and cats. Eating bulbs can lead to cardiovascular problems and endanger the central nervous system, and ingesting lilies can cause kidney failure in cats.

-- How long does it take to make an ass of yourself? If you're a donkey, it takes a year, as 365 days is the average gestation period. Sperm whales are pregnant for 480-500 days, deer for 201 days, dogs and cats both go 58-65 days, kangaroos 42 days, rabbits 30-35 days and mice 19-21 days.

-- When it comes to stretching before any activity, no personal trainer or coach will ever be as committed to the idea as the average cat. When a cat wakes up, she carefully stretches every muscle to make sure her strong, supple body is ready for action. Typically, the stretching routine starts with a good arching of the back and a very, very big yawn. Next is a full-body stretch, right down to the tip of the tail. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.

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