Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

SAFE ON THE FOURTH

Holidays and pets don't go together well under any circumstances. Animals are creatures of habit, and holidays are big breaks from routine. From a pet's point of view, the Fourth of July may be the worst of all holidays.

You have the usual holiday mix of parties, strangers, unusual foods left temptingly about, and doors that are left open long enough for pets to slip through. Throw in noisy fireworks on top of it all, and you can see why veterinary emergency clinics can be busy places over this particular holiday.

This year, the Fourth falls on a Tuesday, which means many people will be making a four-day celebration of it. The fireworks will be popping from Friday through Tuesday, and that means the folks in the emergency veterinary clinics will be hopping.

It doesn't take much to help ensure that your pet won't be one of those in need of medical assistance. A few commonsense precautions will go a long way toward making the holiday safer for your pet.

First, make sure your pets are secure when the noise begins, because scared pets are more likely to bolt and be hit by cars or lost forever. Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards, or enticing gaps at the baseline that a panicked pet could open up with a little digging? Fix them all. Better still, bring all your pets inside and consider confining them to a small area like a crate or carrier -- especially if you're not staying home to keep an eye on things.

Always assume your pet may become lost, and plan accordingly. Collars and tags serve as tickets home for lost pets. For extra insurance, add a microchip and a lost-pet service such as 1-800-Help4Pets (www.help4pets.com), which will issue an authorization for your pet's emergency care or boarding if you cannot be found.

Heat is a summer problem that seems to be worse on the Fourth of July, when many people take their dogs along to outdoor events. Don't let having a good time distract you from keeping an eye on your dog. Be sure he isn't exercising too much in the heat, that he's staying in the shade as much as possible and that he's getting lots of water. And of course, your dog should never be left in a car, even with the windows cracked, on any warm day -- even a few minutes could be deadly.

While you're planning for prevention, figure out where you'd go for a veterinary emergency, just in case. Does your veterinary hospital provide around-the-clock emergency care? Will they arrange for on-call care? Find out what your veterinarian offers before you need to know, and be sure that if your veterinarian refers after-hours care to an emergency clinic, you know the phone number and how to get there.

Finally, if you have a pet for whom the noise is terrifying, talk to your veterinarian in advance about tranquilizers you can administer at home to take the edge off the worst of it for your pet. Some pet lovers also report good results from the homeopathic preparation Rescue Remedy, which should be available at any health-food store.

SIDEBAR

Pet on the run

When a pet gets out, you should wait with the expectation that he'll find his way home. The first hours and days after a pet escapes are critical and should not be wasted. And that's especially true on the Fourth of July, when the noise of fireworks can frighten pets into running farther, faster.

Put aside those picnic plans and get fliers out. Put the word "Reward" prominently on the fliers to catch attention, along with a sharp picture of the pet, a brief description and contact phone numbers. Putting "needs medication" or "child's best friend" can also help get people interested in looking. Make at least a hundred, and place them where both drivers and pedestrians can see them. Also, place them at dog parks, pet stores and veterinary clinics.

Canvass the neighborhood with friends and family, and check in with local veterinary emergency clinics to see if your pet has been brought in. When the shelters open after the holiday, check them in person for your pet every day.

Q&A

Pet rats tempting for family dogs

Q: I am looking to get two pet rats. I'm doing some research to help convince my parents. The only thing that stands in the way of my having a good argument against my parents' objections is our two small dachshunds. When my friend brought over her hamster, my dogs wouldn't leave the poor thing alone.

The only place I can put the cage is close to the floor, where my dogs can't really reach it but can put their faces up close to it and bark. What do you think? -- S.T., via e-mail

A: As you've guessed, not all pet combinations work well. Some breeds of dogs are especially intolerant of small pets such as rats, hamsters and mice. Primary among these breeds: terriers and dachshunds. These dogs were developed to be small, nimble and utterly determined to rid the world (or at least the house and barn) of vermin. You can call a rat a pet, but to an animal developed as a ratter, that rat will always be prey.

At the very least, your family's dogs will drive you crazy trying to get at those rats. In the worst-case scenario, they'll succeed, and the rats will be injured or killed. Even if you never allow your dogs into the room where the rat cage is, your dogs will likely know they're in the house and may never let up trying to get to them.

I think a pet rat is not in your future -- for the safety of the rats, the sanity of your dogs and the people in your family.

Too much shedding?

Q: I have a 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier, and he sheds so much! If you run your hand from his neck to his tail, it will be covered with white hair.

He is shorthaired, not longhaired, and I didn't think he would shed this much. I've heard that too much shedding could be a serious problem. Am I worried over nothing, and is there anything I can do to help stop the shedding? -- L.C., via e-mail

A: Assuming that his coat looks to be in healthy condition and there are no bald patches, skin eruptions or other signs of a problem, you probably have a normal dog who's shedding normally. If you don't think the coat looks full, healthy and thick, your dog needs to see your veterinarian.

Brush your dog once or even twice a day to keep the shedding under control. With a shorthaired dog such as yours, use a "hound glove" -- a glove with nubs on the face to pull out loose hairs -- to give him a pleasant petting while you groom.

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

PET BUY

Toy box puzzle keeps a cat busy

Indoor cats can find life pretty boring sometimes, which is why toys that require both physical and mental exercise are recommended by behaviorists. One such toy is the Peek-a-Prize Toy Box, designed to stimulate a cat's curiosity and hunting desire.

The box partially hides a collection of your cat's favorites -- balls, catnip-stuffed toys and even treats -- and then offers him the challenge of working the goodies out of the box. The manufacturer suggests rotating different toys to keep interest high.

The Peek-a-Prize Toy Box is $30 from SmartCat (www.esmartcat.com or 866-317-6278) or pet-supply retailers. A portion of sales proceeds goes to education efforts to help cat lovers learn more about their pets.

PET Rx

Broken feather needs attention

Birds keep their feathers in fine shape through constant preening, but eventually feathers wear out and must be replaced. A budding feather still in its clear protective sheath is called a blood feather, and if these get broken, things can get bloody indeed.

For bleeding from a broken blood feather, wrap your bird securely in a towel to prevent injury to either of you. Then use needle-nosed pliers and grip the feather as close to the base as possible, pulling it out smoothly. Apply pressure to the place where the feather was to stop the bleeding. If you don't feel comfortable restraining your pet and pulling the feather yourself, get your bird to your veterinarian right away.

A healthy bird is likely to bleed to death from an injured blood feather, but by pulling out the broken feather, you can stop the bleeding faster in most cases. Don't use styptic powder on broken feathers, although this product is fine for stopping bleeding from a toenail that's been nicked too closely.

(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)

THE SCOOP

An angry cat can be a danger to all around him

Have you ever had a really bad day at the office, come home and snapped at your mate?

That's roughly what's happening when a frustrated indoor cat attacks another animal or person inside the house because he's worked up over an animal on the other side of the window. It's called redirected aggression, and it can be accompanied by other signs of frustration from the indoor cat, such as urine-spraying.

Cats are very territorial and don't appreciate seeing other cats on what they view as their turf. In an area with free-roaming cats, the animals work out their territory by marking and occasionally by fighting.

But when a cat is kept indoors, he doesn't have a chance to mark or otherwise defend his yard from cats who trot through as if they own the place. The visitor may not even realize the indoor cat is there. (Or indeed they may, because some outdoor cats seem to delight in tormenting their housecat kin!)

How can you keep your cat from working himself into a rage and yourself from being the target of his redirected anger?

A motion-detector sprinkler such as the ScareCrow ($75 from Contech, www.critter-repellent.com or 866-802-8837) may keep stray cats out of your yard. If there's one window that seems to be the perfect vantage point for the indoor cat, you might think about keeping the blinds closed or closing off that room. Finally, a Feliway pheromone diffuser inside the house ($30 from www.felineway.com or 800-549-3904) may help keep your cat calm.

To protect yourself from a clawing, keep an eye on your cat: If he's agitated, he's best avoided until the strange cat is gone and your cat settles down.

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

How much would you spend?

In an informal survey by Veterinary Pet Insurance (www.petinsurance.com), pet lovers indicated that money isn't as important as saving a pet. They were asked: How much money would you spend to save your pet's life? The answers:

Any amount 68.8 percent

Up to $5,000 17.2 percent

Up to $1,000 10.5 percent

Up to $500 3.4 percent

PET TIP

Good time now to spay the cat

Every year I hear from frantic readers who are worried that something's seriously wrong with their half-grown female cats: (BEGIN ITALS)She won't stop crying. She won't stop yowling. She is writhing around on the carpet as if she just had her tail slammed in the door and is in pain.(END ITALS)

I'm always happy to set the owners' minds at ease: Their cats aren't injured. They're in heat.

To put it simply: Once female cats reach sexual maturity (around 5 months), they're pretty much in heat any time they're not pregnant. And they're back in heat not long after giving birth. A female cat is in constant "she's gotta have it" mode, which is why for the sanity of cat and human alike, there's no time like the present to get that cat spayed. (And get the male cat neutered, too, of course.)

Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.

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