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

NOW EAR THIS

Universal Press Syndicate

Did you get a rabbit for Easter? Then you'll need to know how to best care for your new pet.

Rabbit rescue groups have long warned that the gift of an adorable baby bunny to a child at Easter ends up as abandonment or neglect when the pet's novelty wears off. But while we recognize the problem -- and encourage the adoption of shelter and rescue-group rabbits who need homes -- we like to think parents will do the right thing and teach their children to respect and care for pets.

Rabbits are wonderful indoor companions. When properly cared for, rabbits are quiet, clean, playful and gently affectionate. To get the most from a pet bunny, make sure you're caring for the animal properly. Here are some tips:

-- Housing: Indoor rabbits are more fun! Your rabbit will need a home base of a small pen or large cage with food, water and a litter box. Rabbits do well with a plain cat box filled with a shallow layer of recycled paper pellets, covered with a layer of fresh grass hay. You don't scoop a rabbit box -- you change it completely, every day. (The ingredients you toss are great for your compost pile.)

Since some rabbits can be chewers, you'll want to make sure any rabbit-friendly area has electric cords tucked away and to deny access to the legs of nice furniture and the corners of good carpets.

-- Nutrition: Fresh water needs to be available at all times. For food, you can use high-quality commercial rabbit pellets for a base diet (read the label for daily portions and adjust it over time to keep your rabbit from getting fat). Your rabbit will also need as much fresh grass hay as he desires, and a cup or so every day of fresh green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, carrot tops and broccoli leaves.

An alternative diet: Skip the commercial pellets. Offer fresh grass hay at will and a wide variety of fresh green leafy vegetables twice daily. Treat your rabbit, too: Bunnies love little bits of fruits and root vegetables.

If you have storage space, hay is cheaper by the bale and lasts for weeks in cool, dry storage if protected from the elements. And stop throwing away veggie trimmings from meal preparation -- give them to your rabbit!

-- Health care: Get your rabbit spayed or neutered. In addition to keeping your rabbit from reproducing, you'll have a better pet. Unaltered rabbits can have behavior problems such as aggression and urine-spraying. Your rabbit will need a wellness check, just as a cat or dog would, and a good rabbit vet will help you catch little health problems before they become big ones.

Check with your local rabbit rescue group for the names of veterinarians who are known to be good with rabbits.

-- Exercise and play: Make sure your rabbit is allowed time outside the cage or pen every day. If you can't manage letting your rabbit roam at will indoors, block off a single rabbit-proofed room. A secure, supervised area outside is fine as well, but don't leave your rabbit unattended. Rabbits can be scared literally to death by cats, dogs and even jays and crows.

Rabbits love toys. Cat toys, dog toys, hard plastic baby toys and even the cardboard tubes inside toilet paper and paper towel rolls are fun for rabbits. Cardboard boxes stuffed with hay and treats are also fun for bunnies.

Once you've got the hang of rabbit care, think of adding another such pet. Rabbits are social animals and do very well in pairs.

SIDEBAR

Rabbit sites multiply, but this one's still tops

The House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org) is the best site on the Internet for anyone looking for information on these sweet-natured pets.

Thanks are owed to the House Rabbit Society's members for helping others to realize the pet potential in these long-overlooked animals. The society's Web site offers information on everything from housing to nutrition to finding a bun-friendly veterinarian. -- Gina Spadafori

Q&A

'Attack training' not for most dogs

Q: What's the earliest you can start a dog on attack training, and can you recommend a book? -- P.T., via e-mail

A: Dogs who are trained for "bite work" are carefully chosen for their stable working temperament from known working lines. They're carefully trained nearly every day for months, and that training is constantly reinforced over the life of the dog.

If you do not have a dog from known working lines, and if you are not prepared to train nearly every day and to maintain that training for the dog's life, you are asking for trouble with your plan to "attack train" your dog.

For the overwhelming majority of pet owners, teaching a dog to bite is a stupendously bad idea. If a dog is badly trained to bite, putting the genie back in the bottle is hard. The best you can do is to work to keep your dog under tight control. People who know what they're doing with protection-training compete in the sport of schutzhund, and it's among the most demanding of dog sports.

Want another opinion about whether or not you want your dog to be trained to bite? Ask your insurance agent. A dog who knows how to bite and does so may be seen in a vastly different light than one who bites "accidentally," as far as your homeowner's insurance is concerned.

It's better to get a security system if you're worried about crime than to try to make your dog into a man-stopper if you're not really sure of what you're doing. -- Gina Spadafori

Q: Why do dog-show judges check to make sure a dog has testicles? Who cares? I just saw a dog show on TV and really didn't get this part of it. -- S.W., via e-mail

A: Judges have to put their hands on the dogs to assess their structure and make sure all the pieces are where they ought to be. The alignment of the teeth, for example, differs from breed to breed -- the undershot jaw of a boxer doesn't go with a collie.

With longer-haired dogs, the grooming can be so skillful that a judge could be fooled into thinking a dog is put together better than he is. That's why in addition to a hands-on examination, the judges have the handlers "gait," or move, the dogs around the ring.

As for the most personal of examinations, there's a reason for that, too. Dog shows are supposed to be about evaluating breeding stock, so the judge has to make sure both testicles are evident in male dogs. Anything less is a disqualification. -- 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

Some punny names for pet products

-- Pet-product companies love puns when it comes to naming their products. After looking at hundreds of products with some pretty groan-inducing names at the recent Global Pet Expo retail trade show, my tolerance for puns had worn thin. (And I have a high tolerance: One of my dogs is nicknamed Imelda Barkos because of her fondness for chewing up my shoes.) But then I saw the "Dirty and Hairy" line of "spa" products (read: shampoos and conditioners) for dogs. Made me laugh, and it looks like nice stuff, too, with easy-on-the-nose (human nose, anyway) scents such as Green Tree and Lime. Product prices start at $8 (more information at DirtyandHairy.com).

-- According to a survey of more than 2,000 veterinarians conducted for the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association, the majority (69 percent) of veterinary hospitals now have their own Web sites. When it comes to animal-care information online for clients, veterinarians feel best about information provided by veterinary schools and research institutions (78 percent ranked them as very confident that this was a good source of information).

-- Robot dogs are as good at providing companionship for older people as real dogs are, according to a study of nursing home residents conducted by St. Louis University and reported by www.ScienceDaily.com. The study compared a real dog named Sparky to a Sony Aibo robot dog (Sony isn't making them anymore, by the way). Both dogs were better than no canine visitor at all, but the real dog wasn't considered by residents to be any better company than the robot. Does this mean in the future we'll need more computer techs and fewer veterinarians? I doubt it! -- Dr. Marty Becker

PET BUY

Pet beds, toys going green too

With all the interest in Earth-friendly products, it's no surprise that many companies are now offering pet supplies made from recycled materials. One such company is West Paw Design, which not only uses Earth-friendly, pet-friendly materials in its line of attractive pet beds and toys, but also manufacturers all its products in its own Bozeman, Mont., plant.

The resident pets in my home loved the toys sent for sampling, and the cat especially seemed delighted with the high-powered, U.S.-grown organic catnip. The company says the fiber filling in stuffed items is mostly IntelliLoft, made from recycled plastic bottles.

The products are great-looking, too. More information is available on the West Paw Design Web site (WestPawDesign.com). -- Gina Spadafori

THE SCOOP

Swift action can help locate lost pet

One of the biggest mistakes people make when pets go missing is underestimating the seriousness of the situation. When a pet gets out, the response should never be "wait and see."

First on the "to do" list: Make some "Lost pet" signs.

You don't need to describe your pet from nose to tail. If you've lost a large black dog, start with that. Make sure the sign can be easily read from a distance. Include your phone number and area code. And put the word "reward" in big, clear letters. Money can motivate a lot of people who might not care much otherwise. So can appealing to emotion, such as by writing "Children's pet" or "Needs medication."

Print enough signs and display them in the most effective way possible -- place some signs where drivers can see them and some for pedestrians. Also, put signs in places where pet people go: veterinary offices, dog parks, pet-supply stores and pet groomers. You'll also need to place a lost-pet ad in local newspapers and on Web sites.

Enlist the help of friends, family and neighbors in the search, and go door-to-door in your area. Ask neighbors to check garages, tool sheds and crawl spaces. Cats often slip into such spaces unnoticed and are trapped when doors are shut behind them.

You'll need to visit every shelter in your area and to look through the cages and runs yourself. Shelter workers are busy, and they might not remember seeing your pet or recognize him from your verbal description. Ask to see the pets in the infirmary as well as in the general runs, since your pet might have been injured.

And keep looking. Pets can turn up weeks or even months after they go missing. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

What's up, doc?

Does it ever seem as if you spend more time in the waiting area at your veterinarian's office than at your own doctor's? If so, you're not alone. In a 2004 study, the American Animal Hospital Association asked a survey of pet lovers which health-care provider they visited more often. The answers:

My pet's veterinarian: 58 percent

My own physician: 27 percent

I visit both health-care providers the same number of times: 15 percent

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Gentler greetings can end pup's leak problem

Dogs who leak urine when people approach may be easily excited or a bit fearful. Some people cry when they are emotional; some emotional dogs leak urine.

This messy tendency can be a genetic predisposition or a learned response. You can help your dog get over it, though, and here's how:

Postpone greetings to allow your dog to relax. Don't even look at your dog when you first get home. Wait a few minutes. Then take a few deep breaths and relax your muscle tone. Avoid looming over your dog to keep from frightening her.

When you're ready to say "hello," turn sideways, squat, and extend a hand for sniffing to help lower the dog's stress level, build confidence and work toward a leak-free greeting.

(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 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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