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

LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT

Universal Press Syndicate

Dogs are content to live in dog-smell heaven, a place where water is only for drinking or swimming and never has soap added. Sadly, from a canine point of view, we make the rules that dictate how often dogs must be bathed.

But how often is that? Forget that old saw about "every six months" or even "every year." Who wants to live with a stinky dog? To keep your dog huggable, bathe him as often as needed -- even if that means weekly -- to keep the coat clean-smelling and get rid of the hair that's about to be shed. (Dogs with skin problems, of course, should be bathed according to the veterinarian's instructions, with products prescribed or recommended for the problem.)

So get ready: We're going to wash the dog.

Before you start, brush your dog well. Mats and tangles, once wet, just get worse and will likely have to be cut out. So get them out of the way first.

Let your brushed dog relax while you set up the proper equipment and fill the tub. A bath mat in the tub or sink will make your dog feel more comfortable by giving him something secure to stand on. You'll also need a spray nozzle. Some people rinse their dogs by pouring dirty bathwater back over them, but that defeats the purpose of bathing a dog (to get him clean), so use a nozzle. Set out your towels and some dog-friendly shampoo and conditioner where you can reach them.

Right before the big plunge, put a pinch of cotton just inside your dog's ears to help keep the soap out (don't forget to remove the cotton afterward).

Don't spare the words of love and encouragement. In working with dogs, a good attitude can go a long way, but a bad one can go even further. If your dog knows how much you hate bath time, how can he get a positive, or at least tolerable, opinion of the process? Keep your attitude high and don't let up on the praise.

Lather up, rinse, repeat and rinse thoroughly (the biggest mistake most people make is not rinsing well enough -- it makes the coat dull and flaky). Follow up with a conditioner or detangler if your pet's coat needs either. Rinse well for a final time.

Hold a towel over your dog loosely while he shakes. Your dog can get more water off by shaking than you can by toweling. So let him have at it, and then finish the job by rubbing him dry when he's done. (Forced-air dog dryers start at less than $100 and can be a wonderful investment for a dog owner, except for those with shorthaired pets.)

Don't let your dog outside until he's dry, so he won't roll in something yucky and undo the work you've done.

SIDEBAR

Bathe the cat? Are you nuts?

Cats -- especially shorthaired ones -- generally do a pretty good job of keeping themselves well-groomed. If you have an allergy sufferer in the house, though, a weekly bath (or just a rinse with clean water) will help to keep the allergen levels to more manageable levels.

And, of course, if your cat gets into something he can't safely clean off himself, he'll need a bath.

If your cat won't cooperate, take a firm hold on the nape of your cat's neck and hang on tightly. Working as quickly as you can, wet your cat, lather, rinse, condition and then rinse again, thoroughly. Wrap your cat snugly in a "kitty burrito" to dry him with the towel, and then set him down in a way to minimize injury to you both and let him stalk off to reclaim his dignity and plot his revenge.

Both of my cats get weekly bathing because of my allergies. They don't like being bathed, but they tolerate it pretty well because I started with them as kittens. -- Gina Spadafori

Q&A

Do compact fluorescent bulbs cause feather-picking?

Q: I am a cat person, but I read with interest your recent article on feather-picking in birds. I wanted to add, since it was not included in the piece, that my parents have a very big bird -- I think it is a scarlet macaw -- and he is either molting excessively or picking his feathers.

He looks just awful, and I asked my stepmom what was wrong with him. She said that she took him to a veterinarian recently who told her that her bird is very likely stressed out by the compact fluorescent bulbs they are now using in all of their lamps. She was going to change back to regular lightbulbs, and I do not know the outcome.

I wanted to mention this in case you want to do some research and inform your readers if this is in fact a problem for birds. -- C.F., via e-mail

A: I asked board-certified avian specialist Dr. Brian Speer (my "Birds for Dummies" co-author) for help with this one. He says your parents can probably keep using the energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

"Although there is a different flicker frequency that birds see as compared to ourselves, there is no confirmed direct causation between feather-damaging behavior and fluorescent lighting," says Speer, who owns the Medical Center for Birds, a birds-only practice in the Northern California town of Oakley.

He doesn't rule out CFLs completely, however, at least as a contributory factor to the problem. Feather-picking is complex behavior, he stresses.

"This type of light may function as a stressor, and it is possible that some stressors may trigger anxiety," says Speer. "Anxiety may be addressed by displacement behavioral activities, and of these, feather damage could be seen.

"But this is a bit of a simplistic 'cause and effect' assumption for a problem that more often than not is multifactorial in nature," he says.

Stopping feather-picking, in other words, will remain a difficult road for many bird owners, with a lot of strategies employed along the way to find the magic ingredients to the cure -- if it can be found at all. -- 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

Fewer allergies with early pet exposure?

-- Children run less risk of being sensitive to allergens if there is a dog in the house in the early years of their lives. That's the conclusion based on a six-year study of 9,000 children in the European Respiratory Journal. Reported in The Times of London, the study adds weight to the theory that growing up with a pet trains the immune system to be less sensitive to potential triggers for allergies such as asthma, eczema and hay fever.

-- A "three dog night" was once described by comedian Johnny Carson as a "bad night for a tree." But the term originates with the Inuit tribes of Alaska, who measured nocturnal temperatures based on how many of their sled dogs they needed to serve as bed warmers. So says the Animal Radio Network newsletter.

-- Dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states, reports the Journal for the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed legislation on March 4 that increased the penalty for participating in dogfighting from a misdemeanor to a felony. Idaho passed similar legislation just a week earlier.

-- The pet industry is the second-fastest growing retail sector after electronics, according to the investment banking firm The Mercanti Group. The study, reported in Veterinary Practice News, finds that the fastest-growing segment of the pet industry in terms of percentage growth is pet services, especially grooming and boarding.

-- Employment opportunities for veterinarians in the United States are expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2012, according to the California Veterinary Medical Association. California alone will need 700 new veterinarians per year to keep up with veterinarian retirements and the growing pet population. It is estimated there will be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians nationwide over the next 20 years. -- Dr. Marty Becker

THE SCOOP

Petting your cat? Watch the tail

Every cat lover has had the experience of a cat who, while being petted, bites or scratches "without warning." In fact, there is almost always some warning, but a key bit of body language was ignored.

You can tell when you're getting close to the line by watching your cat's tail. When a cat has had just about enough, his tail will start twitching. Keep petting, and that tail will get even more active, just before you're introduced to your cat's nonloving embrace.

With sensitive cats or cats you've just met, restrict your caresses to behind the ears, under the chin or the base of the tail. A long stroke down the back is too much for some kitties, and you're really taking chances when you decide to tickle the tummy on any cat, even your own.

You can reform hair-trigger cats by watching for the first sign of a tail twitch. When you get that first early warning sign, stop petting and allow him to calm down or leave if he wants to. Over time, you'll build up your cat's tolerance for petting.

If you miss the signs and end up with teeth and claws around your arm, just freeze. If you fight back or physically punish your cat, your cat will be compelled by instinct and fear to escalate the violence. And that will set back your training. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

The best man is a dog

The Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. polled more than 3,000 of its policyholders to find that it's no longer novel to have a pet at a wedding. According to the poll:

-- 42 percent: Included or planned to involve a pet in their wedding ceremony

--11 percent: Didn't include their pet but had been to a wedding with a pet in it

-- 47 percent: Had never been to a wedding with pets involved

PET Rx

False pregnancy common in dogs

False pregnancies are not uncommon in unspayed dogs. The signs include nesting, mothering objects, such as a stuffed animal, and excreting milk. Some dogs may physically appear pregnant and may even go into labor. These symptoms become noticeable three to six months after a heat cycle.

If symptoms are mild, the condition will usually resolve itself within three weeks. It may be tempting to put warm compresses on the dog's underside or to wrap the abdomen to prevent milk leakage in the house. But that's not advised. Any stimulation of the dog's mammary tissues encourages more milk production.

Continued or severe symptoms will require your veterinarian's assistance to address. After the false pregnancy has passed, the dog can be safely spayed, preventing future false pregnancies -- and, of course, real ones as well. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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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