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

PET BEDMATES

Universal Press Syndicate

Every now and then we hear from someone who wants us to write about how awful it is to have dogs or cats on the bed.

Maybe it's a grandmother who wants us to convince a son or daughter that having a pet on the bed is unhealthy for children, or new sweethearts who want us to solve an argument about where a pet should sleep.

If you're thinking we're going to suggest that all pets be forbidden a spot on the bed, you're barking up the wrong tree. In our homes, as in so many others, our pets share the bed. They're like heating pads that you don't have to plug in or recharge -- and they'll readjust automatically every time you move. Pets will also never steal the covers or complain that the sounds of late-night TV are keeping them from their rest.

That said, there are good reasons to keep your pets off the bed and maybe even out of the bedroom. Among them are behavioral problems (theirs), as well as insomnia and allergies (yours).

For dogs who are ill-mannered or prone to aggression, allowing access to the bed isn't recommended. It gives the animal the idea that he or she has a status that's equal to or better than the human family members. For these dogs, sleeping elsewhere (such as in a crate in the bedroom) will likely be a part of a retraining program to modify the animal's exalted opinion of his own value. (It's important to work with a veterinary behaviorist or trainer with experience in aggression to modify the behavior of dominant pets, so don't just revoke such an animal's bed privileges.)

For people with allergies, turning the bedroom into a pet-free zone is common medical advice that ought to be followed. Maintaining a pet-free bedroom is part of an overall strategy to minimize the impact of pet dander. For those with allergies, keeping pets out of the bedroom gives them enough "breathing room" to make it possible to keep both their pets and their overall good health.

More recently, letting pets sleep in the bed has been suggested as one of many reasons why people have problems getting a good night's sleep. If you have insomnia, you might also consider getting your pet his own comfy bed and keeping yours for yourself.

And what about those couples who don't have pet-behavior problems, insomnia or allergies, but still argue over letting their pets on the bed? That's the sort of thing you have to work out on your own, since we have enough work giving pet advice without venturing into relationship counseling.

Chances are, though, you'll be able to find a bed big enough for everyone to be happy in, if both sides will compromise on the issue.

SIDEBAR

Accessories for the bed-sharing pet

In many homes, the "pets on the bed" debate is long over -- and the pets won. Proof can be found in the marketplace, where accessories abound to help pets get onto the bed -- and keep the bedding cleaner.

I've always kept an eye out for sales on relatively inexpensive, washable cotton quilts to throw over the top of the bedding. I also use rubber-backed fuzzy bath mats on top of the quilts when older pets get leaky. The catalog retailer Orvis took this idea one step further, with its waterproof Three Dog Night comforters. (Downside: They need to be dry-cleaned.)

Speaking of steps, any number of manufacturers makes pet-sized sets to help aging or small animals get onto the bed or couch. Pet retailers have a wide selection to match your budget and decor. -- Gina Spadafori

Q&A

Cat resists move to his new home

Q: We've moved to a new duplex a couple of miles from our old apartment. We can't get Beezy, our 4-year-old neutered male cat, to recognize the new place as home. We've had to go back to the old place to get him twice now. We're afraid he's going to get hit crossing the streets on the way. Any suggestions? -- L.W., via e-mail

A: Cats are highly territorial, and they don't much like it when their territory changes. That's why some cat lovers find that their free-roaming pets keep showing up at their old home after a move, especially if the new home, like yours, isn't very far from the old one.

My best suggestion for you is to convert your cat to an indoor pet, because crossing streets to head back to the old home considerably ups his risk factor for getting hit.

If keeping him in permanently is not possible, bring Beezy inside for a couple of weeks at least. Dedicate extra time to playing with him, especially interactive games such as with a toy on a string. This play helps to relieve him of some of his stress or excess anxiety, and it also aids him in forming attachments to his new home and to the idea of you in it.

You may find that he settles in so well, he can be kept inside, even if he resisted that in his old home. (For ideas on how to make a cat's life indoors a good one, check out the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine's Indoor Cat Initiative at http://vet.osu.edu/indoorcat.htm.)

But if you must let him out, do so for short periods with you, and take him back in when you go inside again. You should be able to get a feel for when he's starting to recognize the new digs as his home, and you can increase his freedom accordingly. You're still taking a big risk with his life, but at least he'll know where home is.

Make sure the new people at your old apartment complex aren't encouraging your cat to stay. Ask them not to feed or pet him, and have them use a squirt bottle or a noisemaker to deter him from staying if they see him around. -- Gina Spadafori

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

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 weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Genetics tracing feline family ties

-- Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have discovered that the ancestors of all pet cats came from what is now the Middle East. They arrived at that conclusion after taking cheek cell samples from more than 11,000 cats around the world to compare the genetic code.

The resulting study was the cover article in the January issue of the journal Genomics. Researchers further found the cats were genetically clustered in four groups that corresponded with the regions of Europe, the Mediterranean basin, east Africa and Asia. Among the surprising results: The Persian cat is genetically linked not with the felines from the Near East, but with those from Western Europe.

Noting that more than 200 genetic disorders are found in modern pet cats, many in purebreds, UCD's Dr. Leslie Lyons said she hopes the research can be used to help breeders avoid introducing genetically linked health problems into their cats.

-- Pet lovers aren't getting the message when it comes to dental health, according to an analysis of claims by Veterinary Pet Insurance. VPI reports that dental problems linked to excessive tooth decay and plaque are costing pet owners millions of dollars each year -- $3.8 million in claims for tooth abscesses, root canals and advanced periodontal disease in 2007. Despite this, the percentage of policyholders who have their pets' teeth regularly cleaned by their veterinarians is 6.8 percent.

-- Every healthy dog has a reflex reaction to any passing skin irritation, whether it's an insect crawling between the hairs or a fingernail giving a scratch. If nerve endings detect something that's annoying the skin, the dog's leg will automatically come up to scratch off the pest -- even if there's no pest there. The response is most pronounced if you scratch a dog on the rump near the base of the tail, along the upper part of the flanks or on the belly -- not coincidentally, places where fleas like to congregate. The "scratch reflex" is so predictable that veterinarians will use it to help with their neurological exam when spinal damage is suspected. -- Dr. Marty Becker

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Getting a pup to enjoy rides

Dogs get carsick for many reasons, including anxiety, full bellies and lack of experience. But most puppies can outgrow car sickness if taken out regularly in the car.

If you want your dog to enjoy car rides, then take him to dog parks and other fun destinations. Otherwise, if all trips seem to end at the veterinary hospital, he may never think car rides are fun.

A dog who rides in the car only when it's time for vaccinations or boarding may benefit from taking anti-anxiety medications and from having an empty stomach, to prevent having to clean up a mess. Talk to your veterinarian about medications (over-the-counter or prescription) that can help if your puppy doesn't outgrow carsickness. And make sure when your pet is on the road that he's safely secured in a crate or with a harness.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)

PET Rx

Healthy rats can be entertaining pets

The negative reaction many people have to the sight of a rat -- even a healthy pet one -- is unfortunate, because they can be entertaining, affectionate and clever pets. Healthy rats from reputable sources can be great pets for school-aged children and even for open-minded adults.

Some of the advantages:

-- Rats are friendly. Many small pets don't like being handled, but rats get used to careful socialization easily, and come to enjoy riding in pockets and on shoulders.

-- Rats are smart. Rats respond quickly to food-based training and seem to love learning and performing tricks.

-- Rats are agile and sturdy. Try to get a guinea pig to run a maze or climb a ladder, and you'll appreciate the fleet-footedness of a rat. Unlike mice, rats can stand up to the handling -- and occasionally, the unintentional mishandling -- of well-meaning children.

-- Rats are cute. Pet rats come in many colors and coat patterns. Think colors like silver mink, platinum, blue and chocolate, and markings like hooded (the head a different color than the body) or masked or patched.

-- Rats are easy to keep. All you need is a good-sized cage with bedding, a place for the animal to hide and sleep, a food dish, a water bottle, and some toys. Your rat will happily eat commercial food and will love to share your healthy food, too.

The downside of rats? They don't live all that long -- two to three years -- and they're prone to tumors. As with all small pets, cage changes must be frequent. Otherwise, the smell will become unpleasant, to you and your pets. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Keeping it clean

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the top complaints of people with fish have mostly to do with the time and effort spent keeping the tanks and water clean. The top drawbacks (multiple answers allowed):

Cleaning 66 percent

Keeping water clear 42 percent

Algae 39 percent

Fish fighting 22 percent

Equipment cost 22 percent

ON THE WEB

Ferret fans share care information

Ferrets are nothing if not lively to live with, and people who fancy them can't imagine life without these domesticated members of the weasel family. Ferrets are rarely dull to watch, always playing and investigating, and often getting into trouble, especially if not watched.

While they're not legally kept everywhere -- California is the biggest holdout against ferret legalization -- ferrets are a perennially popular pet, for good reasons. (That's true even in California, where countless thousands of ferrets live "underground.")

A Web site with good basic information is Ferret Central (www.ferretcentral.org). VeterinaryPartner.com also offers care guides, with a special emphasis on ferret health issues. As for those still hoping for ferret legalization in California, Ferrets Anonymous (ferretsanonymous.com) keeps track of the fight. -- 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.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600