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


Emergencies always seem to happen on holiday weekends, don't they? You're having a great time and suddenly your pet seems ill. Is he sick enough for a trip to the emergency clinic?

No one wants to see a pet in pain or in danger. But every day, people spend money they didn't need to for emergency clinic trips they didn't have to make.

Some of the things that send people into a panic can be of no concern at all. One time, while working overnight in an emergency veterinary clinic, I saw a woman frantic because she thought pieces of her dog's intestines where leaking out the back end. In fact, the dog was infested with tapeworms -- definitely in need of being treated, but nothing that couldn't wait until the weekend was over.

Knowing what's a true emergency and what's not can save you hundreds of dollars, since emergency clinics -- like human emergency care -- can be quite expensive.

With a holiday weekend coming up, it's a good time to review when a pet needs to see a veterinarian. Anything is worth at least a phone call if you're not sure what's wrong. And some things require immediate attention by a veterinarian.

How to tell the difference? Here are some signs that should have you heading for a veterinarian, day or night:

-- Seizure, fainting or collapse.

-- Eye injury, no matter how mild.

-- Vomiting or diarrhea -- anything more than two or three times within an hour or so.

-- Allergic reactions, such as swelling around the face, or hives, most easily seen on the belly.

-- Any suspected poisoning, including antifreeze, rodent or snail bait, or human medication. Cats are especially sensitive to insecticides (such as flea-control medication for dogs) or any petroleum-based product.

-- Snake or venomous spider bites.

-- Thermal stress -- from being either too cold or too hot -- even if the pet seems to have recovered. (The internal story could be quite different.)

-- Any wound or laceration that's open and bleeding, or any animal bite.

-- Trauma, such as being hit by a car, even if the pet seems fine. (Again, the situation could be quite different on the inside.)

-- Any respiratory problem: chronic coughing, trouble breathing or near drowning.

-- Straining to urinate or defecate.

Although some other problems may not be life-threatening, they may be causing your pet pain and should be taken care of without delay. Signs of pain include panting, labored breathing, increased body temperature, lethargy, restlessness, crying out, aggression and loss of appetite. Some pets seek company when suffering, while others will withdraw.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution, always. Better to be dead wrong about a minor medical problem than to have a pet who's dead because you guessed wrong about a major one.

Call your veterinary clinic or hospital before you need help and ask what arrangements the staff suggests for emergency or after-hours care. If your veterinarian refers clients to an emergency clinic after regular business hours, be sure you know which clinic it is, what the phone number is and how to get there.


Keep emergency reference on hand

What do an ironing board and clingy plastic food wrap have in common? In an emergency medical situation, both can be pressed into service to help save the life of your pet.

Surprising, innovative and definitely useful, such information makes "The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats" (Rodale, $20) one of the best books on first aid for dogs and cats. When an animal is sick or injured at home, chances are you won't have instant access to either a veterinarian or to professional-grade medical supplies -- especially on a holiday weekend. But Amy Shojai's top-notch book explains what needs to be done, how to do it, and what you can lay your hands on around the house to help. (Think "stretcher" for that ironing board and "body wrap" for the plastic wrap to keep injured skin in place.)

Shojai's first-aid book has been out for a few years now, but it's still my favorite. It's a good addition to any pet lover's reference shelf.


Dog minds trainer, but not her owner

Q: I have a miniature dachshund. I took her to obedience training because she just didn't seem to listen, plus she barked obsessively. She did really well there and everything seemed to be under control.

Then she had to have surgery and, after that, she seemed to forget everything she had learned. I contacted the people where I went to train, and they suggested she go there for their extended-stay training program since she wouldn't do anything for me. She was there for six weeks. When she came home, she wasn't barking, and she followed my commands.

Then, the unthinkable happened: She needed another surgery.

This surgery went well, too, but we're right back to where we started from -- she has forgotten everything. Her barking is worse than ever! I'm at my wit's end.

I don't want to send her away for another six weeks. Between the two surgeries and the two training sessions, I have a small fortune invested in this little dog. Any suggestions? -- M.K., via e-mail

A: I doubt your little dog has forgotten anything. She just figured out that you're a pushover and that she doesn't have to mind you.

Forget the send-away training. You're ending up with a dog who is perfectly trained and happy to mind the trainer. Instead, find a trainer who can come to your home and work with you and your dog for a couple of sessions. You need to learn how to handle her, and she needs to learn that you are someone who needs her attention and respect.

Your veterinarian should be able to refer you to a trainer.

Remember, though, that some breeds are generally yappier than others, and dachshunds of all types fall in this category. They're intelligent, busy, bossy little dogs with a lot to say.

One possible solution for a really over-the-top barker is a citronella collar. These collars emit a puff of citronella spray when the dog barks. The citrus smell distracts and annoys the dog, who'll usually pipe down. Look for these collars in pet-supply retail outlets.

The 'vegan' cat

Q: A friend passed along your ridiculous "advice" that it's not possible for a cat to survive on no meat. You should know that those of us who are against animal suffering have figured out ways for our pets to eat as we do.

Instead of parroting the party line of the animal-exploitation industry, why don't you tell the truth? -- I.I., via e-mail

A: What part of "obligate carnivore" do you find confusing? It's interesting that a quick tour around the Internet bulletin boards reveals that animal-rights activists are not in agreement on this point, and many who maintain a lifestyle without animal products will bend their rules when it comes to their cats.

As I've written before, I understand and respect the choices you've made for yourself. But if you want a pet who'll thrive on a diet without meat, you should adopt a rabbit or other herbivore. If you're going to have carnivores as pets, you'd better get used to the idea of feeding them meals with meat protein, because that's what their bodies are designed for.

Cats require more than a dozen nutrients, including vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids, that can't be manufactured in a cat's body and must be obtained from an outside source -- that is, from animal tissues.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


Attitude fixes for shelter dogs

Shelters have long known that common behavior problems cause dogs to lose their homes and make it difficult to adopt them out again.

In recent years, shelters have worked to address these challenges, from hiring trainers to make dogs more adoptable to offering discount obedience classes to adopters and implementing behavior hot lines to keep at-risk dogs from being taken to shelters.

Behavior programs aren't the only change in the sheltering community. Organizations trying to find new homes for pets have also embraced the online world in a big way.

It's easier than ever before to search online for the right dog. Most municipal and non-profit shelters and rescue groups maintain a presence on the Internet, allowing prospective adopters to see what animals are available. Most of these groups also post on PetFinder (, the remarkable Web site dedicated to getting pets into their forever homes.

While you'll still need to go through the screening process, starting your search on the Internet is a great way add a new pet to the family.


Shading pets from the sun

While the White Hot Safety Sunblock Shade from Bamboo won't protect your pet from overheating in a parked car, it will keep things a little cooler en route.

The vinyl shade attaches with suction cups to the interior of a car window. Once in place, the shade can be adjusted up or down, and the manufacturer says it does not block the driver's vision. It has one extra feature: When left in a parked car, it changes to reveal the word "hot" when the temperature soars above a safe point. (Of course, your pet won't be in the car when it does, right?)

The Safety Sunblock Shade is $10 from pet-supply retailers.

If the product looks similar to those made for babies, it's really no surprise -- the company also makes gear for children, under the brand name Munchkin.


Cats need slow adjustment to new home

For most cats, one of the most stressful events of their lives is a distracting time for their owners as well: changing addresses.

The best way to move with your cat is to confine him to a small area (I call it a "safe room") before and after the move. The ideal is a spare bedroom where your cat isn't going to be disturbed, outfitted with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.

Don't feel bad about confining your pet: He's more comfortable in a small space, and he isn't subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping out of the house with his belongings. Confining your cat also prevents him from slipping out, which is a danger at both the old and new home.

Your cat should be confined in his safe room before packing begins, be moved to his new home in a carrier, and then be confined again in his new safe room until the moving is over, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled.

When you get to your new home, put the carrier down in the safe room, open the door and let your cat decide when to come out.

After he's a little calmer, you can coax him out with some fresh food or treats, but don't rush him and don't drag him out -- you may be bitten or scratched. Leave the carrier, with its door removed, in the safe room. It is the most familiar place in your new home in your cat's mind and will likely be his chosen spot for a few days until this new house becomes his new home.

After a couple of days, open the door to the safe room and let your cat explore at will, on his terms, but just within the limits of the house. Moving is a great time to convert an indoor-outdoor cat to life indoors, by the way.


What reptiles need

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the top pet supplies purchased by owners of pet reptiles in 2004, by percent of those who reported purchasing the items:

Glass habitat 64 percent

Habitat furnishings 58 percent

Books on care 54 percent

Incandescent bulbs 39 percent

Fluorescent bulbs 38 percent

Bedding 30 percent


Birds don't need 'grit'

The idea that all pet birds need to be kept supplied with grit is one that doesn't seem to go away. But the fact is birds do fine without grit, and the material has been shown to remove vitamins A, K and B2 from the digestive system.

A tiny amount -- as in a couple of grains of grit every couple of months -- is fine for finches and canaries, keeping in mind that no pet bird needs to have access to all the grit he or she wants.

For parrots large and small, though, skip grit entirely. Overconsumption of grit can lead to life-threatening problems in pet parrots, especially young birds and smaller species, such as budgies or cockatiels.

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

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 You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at

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