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


Gina Spadafori

Universal Press Syndicate

When the weather is nice and the days are long, I'm more able to find time for long walks with the dogs. We love our walks along a stretch of the local river parkway, but we always seem to bring home a nasty bonus: ticks.

I hate ticks. The morning after a recent walk, I felt something move along my neck, just above the hairline. Ugh! A tick!

After I disposed of the tick on me, I checked the dogs for ticks again, threw my clothes and bed linens in the washer and myself in the shower. It felt good, even though I know ticks can survive a cycle in the washing machine. After a thorough check, we were still tick-free ... but only until our next walk.

But ticks are more than a disgusting nuisance -- they present a serious health risk for people and pets. Tick-borne diseases can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and harder still to live with. That's why when it comes to ticks and pets, prevention and quick removal are the best strategies by far.

Tick prevention in pets means topical treatments, typically spot-ons available by prescription from your veterinarian (or from retailers with a prescription from your veterinarian). Talk to your pet's health-care provider about which product suits your animal best. In some areas, ticks may respond better to one product than another. In areas with heavy tick infestations, additional protection may entail the use of a tick collar; again, talk to your vet.

Whenever you've had your dog out in an area with ticks -- and that could even be a green city park -- you need to go over your dog carefully to hand-pick any pests that hopped a ride anyway. Don't wait for the preventives to kill them. Feel for tiny lumps and part the fur to get a good look at the skin.

When you've located a tick, don't use methods you may have heard of such as applying alcohol, petroleum jelly or the tip of a hot match to remove them. They don't work. Instead, choose a direct method: Either use a tool to pull them off or protect your fingers with a thin glove.

For tools, a curved-tip jeweler's forceps ($25 to $50) is probably the best, and well worth searching out and keeping on hand if you live in an area with lots of ticks, especially small ticks. Various tools with slots that fit under the parasite -- such as the Ticked Off spoon ($5.50 from retailers) -- also work well.

Start your tick hunt with a little bowl of isopropyl alcohol at hand. No matter if you're using a tool or your gloved fingers, get hold of the tick as close to where the mouth is attached to your pet and apply steady, even pressure to remove the pest -- no twisting required. Once out, flick the tick into the alcohol to kill it and then dispose of the dead ticks at once.

Use a mild disinfectant on the de-ticked areas, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you're done clearing all the pests from your pet. Keep an eye on where the ticks had been embedded for any sign of infection, and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

You can find out more information about ticks and other pet parasites on the Web site of the nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council,


Want to win $1,000 in pet-care supplies?

The portion-control LeBistro electronic feeder is part of the prize package to be given away Aug. 1.

Every month the Pet Connection sends out a free e-mail newsletter, offering the news and information you need to know to keep your pet healthier and happier. All you have to do to have it delivered to your e-mail inbox is visit and sign up. We don't sell or share your information, so all you'll be getting is the free e-mail newsletter.

Even better, on the first of every month we draw a name from our e-mail newsletter subscribers and give that person a collection of pet-care supplies with a retail value of $1,000. Past collections have come from Premier Pet, Oster and Kurgo.

The Aug. 1 drawing is for top-quality pet-care supplies from Petmate, including pet beds, crates, automatic feeders, water fountains and more.

For more information or to sign up, visit


Think before putting your pet on a plane

Q: Do you think it's still safe to ship a pet by air? -- S.P., via e-mail

A: I have put pets on airlines for trips across the country and halfway around the world, and have never had a bad experience. That said, I'm not really keen on the idea of putting one of my pets on a plane right now, with the airline industry in such a mess. After all, the fact that the overwhelming number of pets arrive safely isn't of much comfort if your pet has a problem.

The pet owners who probably will still be happy with air travel are those with pets small enough to fit in a carry-on pet bag. If the carry-on option isn't available, your pet will have to fly in the baggage compartment, which means his safety is in someone else's hands.

If you decide to fly with your pet, here are some things to do to help minimize the risk:

-- Talk to the airline well in advance. Some carriers, especially the no-frills companies, don't take animals at all. Even those that do may have limits on the number of animals on a flight. You also need to know where and when your pet has to be presented, and what papers -- health certificate and so on -- you need to bring.

-- Be sure your pet is in good health. Air travel isn't recommended for elderly or ill animals, and is likewise ill-advised for short-nosed dogs or cats. These animals find breathing a little difficult under the best of circumstances, and the stress of airline travel may be more than they can handle.

-- Choose a pet carrier designed for air travel. If your pet will travel in the baggage compartment, the crate should be just big enough for him to stand up and turn around in. Check and double-check that all the bolts securing the halves of the carrier are in place and tightened. Bring zip-ties to the airport to secure the door after your pet is in, with the help of airline personnel.

-- While your pet cannot wear a collar in his crate -- it's not safe because it can get hung up -- put an ID tag on a piece of elastic around his neck. Be sure the crate has contact phone numbers for both ends of the journey prominently displayed.

-- Consider travel conditions. Don't ship your pet when air traffic is heaviest, such as around any holidays. Choose flights that are on the ground when the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold, not only at the departing airport, but also at the connecting and arriving airports. If you're flying into or out of traditionally hot locales during the summer, you may not be able to ship pets at all because airlines often put embargoes on pet travel.

-- Choose a direct flight, preferably a red-eye. If that's not possible, try for a route with a short layover. If you can get a direct flight out of another airport, choose that flight, even if the airport isn't the most convenient to you. Most animal fatalities occur on the ground.

Contrary to popular belief, it's generally better that your pet not be tranquilized before flying. The combination of high altitude and limited oxygen is a challenge that your pet's body is better prepared to meet if he's not sedated. Still, your pet may be an exception. Talk to your veterinarian about this issue.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


Disney's 'Old Yeller' was a cur

-- If you remember the classic 1957 Disney movie "Old Yeller," you may be interested to know the dog who played Old Yeller was a Black Mouth Cur, a rugged hunting breed that originated in the South. According to American Profile magazine, Yeller was trained and coached by renowned Hollywood animal trainers Frank and Rudd Weatherwax, who also trained Lassie.

-- The term "kitten" is most commonly used to refer to a pre-adolescent cat, but can also be used to describe a young rabbit, rat, hedgehog or squirrel.

-- After our recent story on how to protect yourself from diseases passed on by animals, we found one of the best sites around on the subject. The Worms & Germs Web log ( is a joint venture of the Ontario Veterinary College's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses and the City of Hamilton Public Health Department. Drs. Scott Weese and Maureen Anderson do most of the writing, with the assistance of veterinarians, physicians, public health personnel and researchers. Check it out! -- Dr. Marty Becker


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 there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to or by visiting


Keeping pets safe around the pool

While many dogs enjoy swimming, some are either not capable of it (such as bulldogs, who tend to sink) or not interested. And even dogs who love the water can drown if trapped in a swimming pool or allowed to swim beyond the measures of their physical capabilities.

It's up to pet owners to keep at-risk pets away from swimming pools and to protect others from getting in over their heads. Fortunately, there are a couple of products available to make this task easier.

While all pools should ideally be surrounded by a secure fence -- that's required by law in many areas -- you can add another layer of protection with the Safety Turtle. The product attaches to a pet's collar and triggers an alarm in the house if the pet falls in the pool. The Safety Turtle has a suggested retail price of $267 and is available through retail stores and catalogs, or from the manufacturer at or 1-800-368-8121.

The Skamper-Ramp provides a way out for any animal who falls into the pool -- even frogs! The company has added a larger ramp in addition to the original, and notes that the product also can be used to help pets out of the water and into boats or onto docks. Skamper-Ramps retail for $40 to $100. For more information visit or call 1-877-POOLPET.

You just can't play too safe when it comes to protecting your pet around the pool. -- Gina Spadafori


Good dog, safe dog

We are statistically more likely to be bitten by dogs we know. Experts say the number of serious or deadly dog bites can be dramatically reduced by neutering and by raising animals to be well-socialized, well-trained family members -- as opposed to neglected outdoor "protection" dogs, especially ones on chains.

Some dog-bite statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

-- 80 percent of dog-bite incidents involving children are inflicted by a family dog (30 percent) or a neighbor's dog (50 percent).

-- 75 percent of fatal dog bites were inflicted on family members or guests on the family's property.

-- 8 percent of dog bites involving adults were work-related (inflicted on such workers as meter readers, repairmen, etc.).


Strict schedule may not be best

Is it better to stick to a schedule, or to deliver meals, playtime and walks at random?

Some pets seem more comfortable and relaxed with a consistent routine. On the other hand, pets who learn to accept things as they come are less likely to rattle bowls or paw at owners who are tardy with a routine activity. A pet will repeat behaviors that work, which means if you respond to your pet's nagging by doing what your pet wants, you'll be rewarding something you may ultimately find annoying.

Most pets are more relaxed if they have developed a tolerance for waiting or for being a little hungry. A pet who has every need met when and how he expects it may become too demanding.

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

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 or by visiting

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