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

BY THE BOOK

By Christie Keith

Universal Press Syndicate

For more than a quarter-century, pet owners have turned to the "Home Veterinary Handbook" series when faced with questions about pet illnesses and injuries.

While the questions are mostly the same today as when the series debuted, the world of veterinary medicine has changed dramatically. New technologies, advanced diagnostic techniques, newly emerging diseases, and recent research on drugs, vaccines and surgeries have made having current information a necessity.

Fortunately, newly updated and revised editions of both of these classic reference books were released in the last few months, authored by a team of four veterinarians led by Dr. Debra Eldredge.

"The goal was to update the books with the wealth of new veterinary information we have had in recent years," she said. And the authors succeeded: From cutting-edge diagnostics to alternative therapies, the handbooks cover it all.

The "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook" and "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook" (Howell Book House, $35 each) are organized by body system, with a comprehensive index in the back and a handy mini-index inside the front covers. Pet owners can read about the causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment of common as well as unusual animal health problems, from allergies to cancer. Sections are also included on first aid and medication, as well as instructions on how to monitor a pet's vital signs.

There's more than just practical advice on how to cope with health problems, too.

"The books are meant to make pet owners better health advocates for their pets, more informed and better able to communicate with their veterinarians," said Dr. Eldredge.

That's because the authors managed the tricky task of offering pet health information that's genuinely useful but doesn't confuse pet owners into skipping veterinary care when it's needed. Easily followed guidelines tell owners when it's appropriate or even necessary to give immediate aid to a dog or cat, when symptoms require an immediate trip to the emergency clinic, and when the pet can wait until regular office hours to be seen.

Also on the cutting edge are two new books on pet first aid from the American Red Cross. While there's nothing new about pet health emergencies, some recent hurricanes, floods and fires have underscored the need for resources to cope with them. And these two spiral-bound books -- one for dogs and one for cats -- are great resources. Each book comes with a companion DVD that gives step-by-step instructions on how to give first aid to pets. The sections on animal poisoning are particularly impressive, as is the information on what to do in an emergency until veterinary care can be obtained. They cost $17 each and are available online at www.redcross.org (click on "Store" and then "Reference Guides"), or by calling 1-866-782-3347.

One more book to round out the pet owner's health library is Eldredge's "Pills For Pets: The A to Z Guide to Drugs and Medications for Your Animal Companion" (Citadel, $15). It lists drugs by brand and generic names, covers issues including online pharmacies and compounded medications, and gives tips on how to get medicine into the pets -- yes, even those uncooperative cats.

SIDEBAR

Massive Merck manual has experts aplenty

Most pet health books are lucky to have one veterinarian listed as an author. "The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health" (Merck, $23) offers more than 100 veterinarians, most with advanced degrees and certification, as contributors.

Within each section of this hefty paperback is an encyclopedic listing of disorders and body systems, as well as an overview on routine care and preventive medicine. If it's about animal health, it's almost certainly in this book, often in surprising detail. -- Christie Keith

Q&A

Treatment options for a blind dog

Q: I have an 11-year-old cocker spaniel who, for the last several years, has been showing signs of increased blindness. Our veterinarian says she has cataracts.

I am leery about surgery and all the complications that might arise. I am wondering if laser surgery is performed on dogs for this condition? Do you have any suggestions on how to improve her eyesight or at least make her senior years more comfortable? -- S.W., via e-mail

A: There are many potential causes of vision loss in an 11-year-old cocker spaniel, with cataracts being only one of them, says Dr. William Miller, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and owner of Advanced Animal Eye Care in Memphis, Tenn.

Some causes of vision loss are medically treated, while others require surgery. And sadly, some causes of vision loss have no treatments. Dr. Miller recommends you have a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist examine your dog. Your veterinarian is no doubt providing excellent primary care. But with vision loss, often a specialist is required to provide you with the information you need to make a good decision for your pet. You can locate a veterinary ophthalmologist in your area by going to the Web site of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (acvo.org).

If cataract surgery is indicated, your ophthalmologist can provide you with treatment options. Most cataracts in human and veterinary ophthalmology are removed by small-incision surgery. The opaque lens is liquefied by ultrasonic energy, and the lens material is flushed from the eye. Following removal of the opaque lens, an artificial lens is generally placed in the eye to further improve vision.

An 11-year-old dog is certainly not too old for surgery, providing the blood work is normal and the patient is in good physical shape. If the cataracts are operable, you can expect vision to be improved in 90 percent to 95 percent of patients.

Even in human ophthalmology, cataracts are not removed by lasers. Lasers are used in human ophthalmology to remove scars from the intraocular lens, if that complication occurs.

If your dog's vision cannot be improved, you can still provide her with a comfortable life. Blind dogs can function quite happily in familiar surroundings -- don't move the furniture around a lot! -- and can even enjoy outings when kept safely on leash.

The Web sites www.BlindDogs.net and BlindDogs.com are places where owners share tips on keeping these dogs happy. The motto of BlindDogs.net says it all: "Blind dogs see with their hearts." -- Dr. Marty Becker

(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

DNA busts biting dogs

-- Police officers in Melbourne, Australia, investigating dog attacks on people or other pets now use DNA kits to identify the culprits. They gather fur, saliva or excrement with swabs and place it in evidence bags for possible prosecution.

-- Just as my dad loved his recliner, our barn cats went crazy for the Scratch Lounge. The manufacturer claims cats will spend 100 times longer on it than on conventional scratchers. Sounds like hyperbole to me, but I do know our cats loved it. It's $25 from Scratchlounge.com or (213) 683-1963.

-- A recent survey in Women's Health magazine put men in the doghouse. It showed that 99 percent of women talk to their pets, and 45 pets of women think their pets are cuter than their partners. Meeee-ow!

-- The Humane Society of the Unites States offers "Providing for Your Pet's Future Needs Without You," a free estate-planning kit for pet owners at hsus.org/petsinwills. -- Dr. Marty Becker

GOOD BEHAVIOR

Your dog can enjoy baths

If you want your dog to enjoy getting a bath, make bathing an enjoyable experience.

Start by feeding your dog in the tub. And when that's no big deal, give him treats when turning the faucet on and off. As you progress to bathing, make sure your dog is hungry, and give him treats and praise for good behavior.

Make sure the water temperature is fit for a baby, and use a tearless shampoo for pets. A tiny bit of cotton pressed gently and not too far into the ears will keep water out, and use a washcloth on your pet's face to work around the eyes and mouth. Massage and praise your pet during lathering and rinsing. Finally, give him a special chewy treat after every bath to further associate good things with the bathing experience.

(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.)

THE SCOOP

Allergies and pets: Tips for the suffering

When you're allergic to pets but can't imagine life without them, breathing easier starts with finding an allergist who doesn't greet you with, "First, get rid of your pets."

In some severe cases, that may have to be the ultimate resolution to getting the problem under healthy control. But it shouldn't be the starting point for treatment.

Here are other tips for living with animals and allergies, recommend by allergists who understand that pets aren't disposable:

-- Don't go it alone. Find an allergist who will help you, pets and all.

-- Establish your bedroom as a pet-free, low-allergy zone. Close off your bedroom and reduce dust-collecting surfaces by removing carpets and rugs, wall hangings, stuffed animals and collectibles from the room. Invest in an air cleaner, and keep air ducts and ceiling fans clean. Banish feather pillows and down comforters. Use zippered, dustproof covers on the mattress and pillows. Combat dust mites by washing bedding frequently in hot water.

-- Try to limit exposure to other allergens. Avoid cleaning solutions, cigarette smoke and strong perfumes. Consider using a mask when doing yard work and housework, especially at the height of the pollen season. Better yet: Let someone else mow the lawn and do the vacuuming.

-- Keep your pets clean and well-groomed. The best situation is for a non-allergic member of the family to take over these pet-care chores. Weekly bathing is a must -- for cats as well as dogs. For cats, you don't even need to use soap. A rinse with clear water has been shown to be just as effective in keeping down allergen levels. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Spending on pets keeps climbing

Year Billion

2008 $43.4*

2007 $41.2

2006 $38.5

2005 $36.3

2004 $34.4

1994 $17

(*estimated)

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association

PET TIP

Secure tags with rings

The "S" hooks given out with some pet ID tags are hard to fasten correctly, even when using pliers, and they always seem to be falling off the collar, giving up the tag or catching on something. A better choice for fastening tags is the split-ring.

Many tag makers offer you a choice of fasteners. But if that's not the case, ditch the "S" hooks and head to the hardware store. Split-rings are available cheaply there, in the key section. You don't have to break your nails to get tags on these rings. Use a staple remover to pull them wide enough to slide on the tags. -- 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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