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


Universal Press Syndicate

The observable delight cats get from a good scratch is reason enough to provide them with non-destructive opportunities to indulge in this satisfying behavior.

But too many people seem far too willing to deny their pets this normal behavior by declawing them without even trying to train them. While it's natural on our part to not want our furniture demolished, it's also possible to let cats keep their claws and channel their behavior in ways we humans can live with.

If you're going to have any success in getting your cat to scratch where you want -- instead of somewhere you don't, such as the corner of your couch -- you need to provide alternatives -- scratching posts and boxes, and cat trees -- that are not only sturdy but are also made of a material your pet can enjoy digging into.

Stability is important, because the first time a scratching post or cat tree comes crashing down on your pet is the last time she'll ever use it, rest assured. As far as material, sisal, a natural ropelike covering, is popular with cats, as is a carpet with loops that aren't too shaggy.

Many cats love cat trees, especially those with shelves, hiding spaces or perches. These days, these products come in all shapes and sizes, and many are designed to fit in attractively with the decor -- no more leftover '70s shag carpet covering!

Horizontal scratching boxes or pads offer another alternative, as do doorknob hangers made of cat-friendly scratching material. Try to offer as many choices in as many places as possible.

Be sure to place scratching items in places your cat frequents. A cat tree won't be of any use if it's hidden in a garage or basement, after all. You can ease the transition by positioning the scratching post, tree or box near the place where you're discouraging scratching. If that's not an aesthetically attractive spot, you can slowly move the scratching material to a more eye-pleasing location after your cat gets in the habit of using it.

You can make scratching posts, trees and boxes even more appealing by rubbing fresh catnip on them, by adding toys, or by playing games with your cat on (or near) the scratching material. These strategies will help make your cat comfortable with preferred scratching areas and will help to encourage return business.

Once you have pleasant places for your cat to scratch, you can discourage use of the furniture by covering the corners (or other scratched areas) with double-sided tape or panels of foil. The use of such materials is temporary: Once your cat gets in the habit of scratching where you want and leaving the unpleasantly padded furniture alone, you can remove the tape or foil and enjoy the look of your furniture again.

Keep squirt bottles handy as well, and be sure to deploy them in a way that makes the cat think the water that hit her didn't come from you.

Always remember to reward your cat with treats, praise and gentle physical attention when she scratches in a suitable spot.

Above all, be positive! Why punish your pet when you can offer alternatives and reward your pet for using them? If you're patient and persistent, your cat will learn to focus all that happy scratching on the places you've provided, leaving your expensive furniture unscathed.


Clipping your cat's claws is easy

Keeping the sharp tips of your cat's claws blunted will also help make living with your cat easier.

All you need is patience and a nail trimmer (either human or pet variety works fine). While your cat is relaxed and sleepy -- after a meal is a great time -- slowly expose a single claw and praise your cat. Over time, let your cat get used to you handling her feet gently as part of a petting session, exposing all her claws without clipping them.

After your cat is comfortable with having her paws handled -- this step can take a few days or more, depending on your cat -- nip off the very tip of a single claw. Don't push: While some cats may not mind a swift progression to having all claws nipped in a single session, others may tolerate only one nail tip a day.

Always end your trimming session with praise and petting, of course! -- Gina Spadafori


Too many dogs for the park

Q: We have a problem in our dog park with a dog walker who brings in a half-dozen dogs at once and turns them all off-leash to run. They don't mind him, and he can't control them off-leash. He doesn't even try, and usually he's talking on his cell phone while completely ignoring them when they bully the other dogs.

People have told him he should bring in only as many dogs as he can control, but he says he can do what he wants. Others can't use the park when he's there. Do you have an opinion about this? -- B.C., via e-mail

A: No one should be in the dog park if he is unable to handle the animals he brings in, whether it's a single dog or a half-dozen or more.

Everyone who takes a pet into a dog park needs to be responsible for the behavior of that animal, watching to be sure the dog is neither bully nor victim and that no one gets hurt. The dog park is not for catching up on one's reading or cell phone conversations, but rather for safely exercising and socializing a dog. One dog is hard enough to monitor properly; multiple dogs are nearly impossible.

To operate safely, dog parks need good basic rules, an active community to police through peer pressure and plenty of common sense. Your dog park needs to review its rules -- not to ban dog-walking professionals from using the facilities, but to insist that they behave in ways that are safe for all involved.

With the rules changed, you can then point to them and insist that the dog walker shape up or get out. -- Gina Spadafori

Q: To put it bluntly, our dog stinks. We've tried all kinds of products, and nothing works. Is there something we can feed him that will help? -- D.S., via e-mail

A: If you're constantly wincing at your pet's objectionable odor, you need to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Bad breath can be a sign of rotting teeth or gums, and smelly ears are often a result of infections. An overall bad smell may indicate skin problems.

Don't ignore these warning signs. Disease can make your pet miserable and shorten his life. Stinky pets aren't normal. Proper diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian can improve your pet's quality of life -- and your life, as well, by keeping your pet sweet-smelling. -- Dr. Marty Becker

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


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


Hotels offer best for pets

-- A mosquito explosion has increased the number of heartworm infections in dogs and cats. Veterinary experts say dogs and cats that haven't been checked for the parasite in the last six months should be tested and put on some preventive medicine. Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine notes that heartworm preventives can kill the young heartworm before it reaches the heart.

-- With an increasing number of pet lovers taking their dogs on the road, hotels are responding with tail-wagging gourmet meals fit for a king -- a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, that is. USA Today reports that entrées including Zen Yo ($11), a hearty vegetable stir-fry with poached eggs and steamed brown rice that's designed to help pets adjust to jet lag and altitude, are available at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix. Or dogs can devour an organic Buddy Burger hamburger with cheese ($5) at the Los Angeles Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, which also offers organic and locally sourced foods and in-room doggy dining service with cooked-to-order items.

-- The robotic nose may replace working dogs someday. Scientists are developing an electronic sniffer that could be used to detect drugs, bombs, termites and other unwanted things that working dogs currently handle. The super-sensitive nose will be made of a thin film that will capture gas molecules, with the information processed by sensors and computer software to identify the smell.

-- The tragic death of a horse at this year's Kentucky Derby may be influencing a change in attitude toward the Sport of Kings. A recent Gallup Poll reveals that 38 percent of Americans are in favor of an end to the racing of horses and dogs. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon


French Bulldogs a perfect city dog

You see them everywhere you look these days, hardy little dogs with upright ears, trotting pugnaciously next to their owners. Their growing popularity is no surprise, given their compact size, happy natures and easy-care coats.

The French Bulldog -- or "Frenchie," as his friends and fans usually call him -- is in many ways the perfect dog for city dwellers. Topping out at 28 pounds, he's ideally sized for apartment living. Despite his characteristic "tough guy" attitude, Frenchies are far less likely to become nuisance barkers than other small dogs. They also have minimal grooming and exercise requirements, making them great companions for seniors or those with physical limitations.

Devotion to their owners is a hallmark of the breed, which can be a blessing in terms of companionship but can make them less than ideal for anyone who spends a lot of time away from home.

Frenchies can also be a bit harder than other breeds to house-train and aren't always the best with cats. They can have a number of genetic health problems, including breathing difficulties, spine malformations and heat intolerance. And they snore. Loudly.

The Frenchie's popularity is on the rise, which means you'll want to avoid those seeking to profit from his popularity with careless or greedy breeding practices. Be sure to obtain your French Bulldog from a reputable rescue group ( or a breeder who is a member of the French Bulldog Club of America ( -- Christie Keith


What reptiles need

Here are the top pet supplies purchased by owners of pet reptiles, by percent of those who reported purchasing the items:

Glass habitat 64 percent

Habitat furnishings 58 percent

Books on care 54 percent

Incandescent bulbs 39 percent

Fluorescent bulbs 38 percent

Bedding 30 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association


A recipe for 'de-skunking'

Forget tomato juice. If your pet ever gets skunked, the most effective de-stinking recipe is one you make fresh, from ingredients that you should keep on hand.

The recipe: Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Rinse thoroughly with clean tap water.

The key is to mix the ingredients immediately before applying them to your pet. The chemical reaction bonds with the molecules that produce the smell and neutralizes them.

Use a washcloth to work carefully around your dog's eyes and ears. And don't even think of storing any leftover solution. The chemical reaction of the combined ingredients cannot be contained -- so just throw the leftovers away. -- 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 or by visiting

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