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

UGLY NO MORE!

Gina Spadafori

Universal Press Syndicate

The homeliness of a baby gate -- typically stark and functional in white plastic or metal -- was always something you could live with in the short term. And when used for its original purpose of keeping toddlers from getting into trouble, the short term was all you asked for, anyway.

But these days, with more pets in American homes than children, the baby gate is just as likely to be used to keep pets in one place or another. And since its use is no longer temporary, the utilitarian look can get old in a hurry.

Companies such as Orvis (Orvis.com, 888-235-9763) are now selling a selection of good-looking barriers to keep pets out of trouble. And at least one entrepreneur has taken the simple gate to an even higher level, by having it made over with the help of the Rhode Island Institute of Design, Babson College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get an upscale, furniture-grade look with classy curves and ease of use.

"As a multipet-owning homeowner, I tripped over the $20 plastic pet gate too often and said, 'There ought to be a better way,'" said Brad White of Midnight Pass (MidnightPass.com, 877-844-4438) about the pet gate his company is bringing to market this summer, for a projected retail price of $150. "We wanted a product that would look good in a $20,000 or $30,000 kitchen. People will spend $1,500 on a refrigerator. Why wouldn't they spend $150 on a pet gate that looks good?"

Why not, indeed, if you're going to be looking at that gate for years? White says that the response to the prototype pet gate was so popular at a pet-industry trade show earlier this year that he could have sold thousands. And Orvis and other high-end retailers keep expanding their styles of pet barriers and gates, to offer even more choices that look great in any home.

While pet barriers do have short-term uses -- house-training puppies and introducing cats and dogs, most typically -- they're also perfect for long-term behavior management.

For example, it can be a challenge to keep many dogs out of the litter box. A pet barrier across the door of the room with the litter box will allow access for the cat but not the dog, solving this disgusting problem. But as soon as the gate's gone, the problem will return, making a barrier the long-term solution.

In my home, I keep the younger dogs out of the front of the house when I'm not around by putting them behind a barrier that keeps them in a back bedroom, with access through a dog-door to a small, secure outdoor area. Keeping them away from the front picture window reduces barking triggers, keeps the mail carrier happy -- no one likes to be barked at! -- and allows the two senior dogs and the cats to sleep on the living-room couch without the youngsters pestering them. It's a perfect solution, but again, it requires the long-term use of a pet gate.

Barriers can also keep dogs away from guests who aren't as thrilled by pets as you may be, so you can enjoy entertaining people without throwing your dog outside for the evening.

Having tried just about every imaginable kind of baby gate over decades of raising and caring for all kinds of pets, I have to say the "baby" gate is one of the best inventions for pet lovers, ever.

But with two pet barriers set up permanently in my home, I'm delighted to see more options that look as good as they function, and I will be upgrading soon.

Q&A

Lettuce not enough for pet box turtle

Q: My daughter gave me a box turtle. I feed it lettuce and any other fruits or vegetables that it will eat. Its primary source of food is lettuce, though. What else can I feed my turtle to make sure it's getting enough nutrition? I've gone to a pet superstore, but the people there weren't sure what to give it. I've tried dry pellets, but the turtle won't touch them. -- J.D., via e-mail

A: The good news is that your box turtle is eating. Box turtles will often stop eating if they're stressed, cold, weak or sick.

The bad news is that the diet your turtle is eating is very far from nutritionally adequate. Box turtles are not herbivores, so a diet of vegetables and fruit alone is extremely deficient.

Box turtles require around 50 percent animal protein in their diets. In the wild, that comes from worms, grubs, snails, different kinds of insects and even the carcasses of dead animals. Your turtle should eat cooked meat (avoid fat), live earthworms and slugs (make sure they're pesticide-free; you should be able to buy these at pet-supply stores that specialize in reptiles), and feeder fish (available at aquarium stores).

While a little bit of romaine lettuce is fine from time to time, your turtle needs around 10 percent of his diet to be dark, leafy greens such as mustard, turnip, collard and dandelion greens. These are an essential source of calcium and other minerals, and are necessary to keep the turtle's digestion functioning properly.

The protein and greens should be mixed with vegetables, including squash, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and green beans. Be sure to cut everything into very tiny pieces so the turtle doesn't fill up only on his favorite foods. Hard vegetables should be steamed or grated.

Most box turtles love fruit, and it should be around 10 percent of their diet. You can also chop it very finely and mix it with meat and vegetables. This strategy will entice your turtle to eat the foods he isn't so fond of.

Box turtles can rival cats in finickiness, and getting them to eat a balanced diet is sometimes hard. Fortunately, there are some excellent resources available to help you keep your box turtle healthy. Visit the box turtle forums at www.KingSnake.com, where you can ask questions and talk with experienced turtle-keepers.

One of the helpful experts you'll find at KingSnake.com is Tess Cook, who goes by the handle "PHBoxTurtle." She's the author of "Box Turtles" (TFH Publications, $11). Cook also maintains The Box Turtle Care and Conservation Web site (boxturtlesite.info), where you can find plenty of basic information to help keep your turtle healthy and happy. -- Christie Keith

(Pet Connection contributing editor Christie Keith is also the editorial director at PetHobbyist.com. 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

Small pets get their own vets

-- The American Veterinary Medical Association has granted provisional recognition to the first completely new veterinary specialty since 1993. The new specialty will focus on small mammals, including rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, mice and other small mammals commonly known as "pocket pets." The new Exotic Companion Mammal (ECM) specialty was granted provisional recognition last month. Americans own 6.2 million pet rabbits, 1.2 million hamsters, 1.1 million ferrets and 1 million guinea pigs, according to the AVMA.

-- Pet owners are increasingly including their furry loved ones in their estate planning. The Los Angeles Times reports that pet trusts have the force of law in 39 states. In general, the money is turned over to a designated caregiver -- often a family member or friend -- who takes the pet in.

-- The problem: "Pet Eye," in which your pet's eyes appear blue, green or yellow in digital photos, and you can't fix them using red-eye software. The solution: The Wall Street Journal recommends photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or downloading Pet Eye Pilot 3.0 ($50 at www.colorpilot.com/peteye.html), which can be used as a plug-in with many PC-based photo-editing programs.

-- Veterinarians are asking pet owners facing foreclosure not to abandon their animals. Information about pets and foreclosed homes is available on the American Veterinary Medical Association's Web site (www.avma.org -- click on "Issues" and then look under "Animal Welfare"). -- Dr. Marty Becker

THE SCOOP

Cats risk their lives on window ledges

The problem of cats falling out of windows is a seasonal one, timed to the first nice days of spring and, later, to the attempt to get any fresh air in a home on a hot summer day.

While the problem would seem to be one for big-city cats only, that's not really the case. In fact, cats are more likely to survive falls from higher stories and be killed from falls as low as two stories. The reason is what veterinarians call "high-rise syndrome," with the worst falls in terms of feline fatalities coming from the second to the sixth stories of buildings.

Severe injuries are common in falls from higher stories, but these cats often survive. Cats falling from lower floors, without time to get relaxed into a proper landing position, are at greatest risk of death.

That means a cat can be killed falling from the window of a two-story home, or from the balcony of a third-story apartment. In other words, "high-rise syndrome" is as much a problem in the suburbs as in the city.

Many cat lovers assume their pets would be smart enough to be careful when up high enough for injuries, but it's just not in an animal's ability to make that kind of judgment call. Cats are comfortable in high places, and they cannot understand the difference in risk between a one-story fall and a six-story fall.

Screens can help a great deal, but since they're designed to keep bugs out, not cats in, they're not foolproof. The only sure way to protect a cat from falling out the window is to keep the window closed. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Will spending on pets stall?

Will a slow economy stall spending on pets? That question has yet to be answered, but it's a sure thing that no matter what, we'll still be spending plenty on our pets. For 2008, the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association has estimated that $43.4 billion will be spent on pets in the United States. The breakdown:

Food: $16.9 billion

Veterinary care: $10.9 billion

Supplies/over-the-counter medicine: $10.3 billion

Live-animal purchases: $2.1 billion

Pet services (grooming, boarding, etc.): $3.2 billion

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Reward cats for being touched

Most cats love to be stroked by their owners. During this pleasant time together, your cat can learn to relax while being examined.

As you stroke your cat from nose to tail tip, feel for any bumps or scabs. Does your cat flinch in discomfort when touched? Your cat can also learn to allow you to hold his head still -- if introduced gradually with praise and treats -- while you look inside his ears and mouth.

If your cat learns to accept gentle exams at home as routine and nonthreatening, he will be less stressed when the veterinarian examines him.

Daily home checkups will also help you find signs of discomfort early, when easiest and most cost-effective to treat.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Roland 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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