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

DOG DAYS

And Gina Spadafori

Universal Press Syndicate

Summer is a wonderful time to be a dog or to have a dog. The long days offer lots of opportunity to get some exercise, shake up the routine and try something new that will strengthen the bond for both of you.

If you're starting from go, though, it's important to check in with your veterinarian before ramping up the physical activity, especially if your dog is older or overweight. You may also want to check to be sure your dog's tick prevention is the best for your part of the country before you head into any hiking areas.

If everything checks out, get moving! Here are some ideas:

-- Get wet. Swimming is a natural for water dogs or dogs who love the water. If your dog has never been swimming before, try to go out with a friend and a dog who's already a good swimmer. A dog who'll like swimming may learn quickly from a dog who already knows how to swim, especially if the activity is coupled with a game of fetch. Be careful not to let your dog get into trouble: Stick to the calm shallows and be sure to pack drinking water.

For older dogs or those who aren't as water-ready as the average retriever, consider a canine life jacket. These are designed to keep the dog afloat even if he gets tired.

If your dog really takes to the water, consider trying dock-diving. This relatively new sport offers titles and prizes for the dogs who can jump farthest and highest off a dock. Two groups run dock-diving competitions: Dock Dogs (www.dockdogs.com) and Splash Dogs (www.splashdogs.com).

Finally, don't underestimate the amount of fun a dog can have in a plastic kiddie pool. Many small dogs enjoy the splashing, and even big dogs like wallowing in these little pools when it's hot.

-- Take a hike. If you're the outdoors type, your dog may enjoy hiking with you. All you need is some conditioning, a little planning (to find trails where dogs are welcome), and a few pieces of canine hiking gear.

A healthy dog can carry about a quarter of his own weight, so get a comfortable pack for your dog and he can take in his own supplies. You'll also need lightweight, collapsible food and water bowls (along with food and water), a bright bandana (so other hikers or hunters will realize your pet isn't a wild animal), and a collar with ID and a leash. Add a couple of dog-specific items (such as a tick-puller) to your own lightweight first-aid kit.

Before you hit the trail, make sure your dog is well-mannered and well-socialized, and don't let him off-leash unless you're in an area where it's allowed and you're sure of his obedience. The "Best Hikes With Dogs" series from Mountaineer Books offers regional suggestions to help you plan.

-- Get competitive. Every year seems to bring more dog sports. There's a sport for every dog and every dog owner, including some for the more sedentary among us. One of the most popular sports continues to be canine agility, in which the handler directs the dog through a timed agility course.

At the top levels of competition, a handful of breeds excel -- border collies and Shelties, most notably. But you don't need a fast dog and good knees to enjoy the sport -- you just need to try. You can get started with a beginner's agility class, which many dog trainers offer.

For practice, PetSafe (www.petsafe.net/agility) offers a collection of inexpensive backyard obstacles for beginners, or you can check out the bargains on eBay.

The U.S. Dog Agility Association (www.usdaa.com) and the American Kennel Club (www.akc.org) both host agility competitions, although the latter is only for AKC-registered dogs.

Whether your activity is competitive or just for fun, don't delay: The dog days of summer will be gone before you know it, and with them, the opportunity to have some great fun with your pet.

Q&A

Managing old cat and a new baby

Q: When you're expecting your first child, it seems everyone has advice, from your co-workers to all your relatives. When we were trying to get pregnant, we listened to people tell us that we had to get rid of our old cat. Instead, my boyfriend handled the litter box, so that was fine.

But now, some people tell us that cats are attracted to the smell of milk on a baby and may smother an infant by accident. Another old wives' tale, I'm sure, but what do you think? And what's the best way to handle the introductions? -- T.I., via e-mail

A: Common sense dictates that no animal be left unattended with an infant or young child -- for the safety of both. Although it's extremely unlikely your cat would hurt your baby in any way, you don't want to take any chances of an accident occurring.

Some parents have gone so far as to install a screen door on the nursery to keep pets out, a simple and relatively inexpensive solution. You could also confine your cat to one part of the house when no one can directly supervise your pet.

As for your cat herself, she should be fine with the new arrival. Cats thrive on familiarity and routine, so getting the household settled down as soon as you can will help your cat to settle down, too.

Despite all the household upheaval a new baby brings, try to put aside a little time for your cat every day, for petting, grooming and interactive play, and be aware of changes in your cat's behavior.

Sometimes stress can lead to litter-box avoidance. If that's the case with your cat, have your veterinarian check her out to make sure there's no health problem, and then set her up in a small bedroom -- with a litter box, food and water, and toys -- to retrain her and let her chill out for a few days.

Having a pet will benefit your baby. In addition to the unconditional love and listening a pet offers, recent studies suggest that children who grow up with animals may be less susceptible to developing allergies.

Finally, work with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is in the best of health and is current on all preventive-care measures. Veterinarians are well-versed in how pet health problems can mean human health problems and are your best bet at advising on how best to keep your pet from presenting any risk to your child.

As always, the best advice is to get rid of the risk and keep the pet. Your veterinarian can help. -- Dr. Marty Becker

(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 monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Service dogs get free eye exams

-- More than 1,500 service dogs received free eye examinations in May from members of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. The service dogs included guide dogs, handicapped assistance dogs, detection dogs and search-and-rescue dogs. The program was so successful, it will likely be repeated in 2009. For more information, visit www.acvoeyeexam.org.

-- A new Swiss law taking effect Sept. 1 broadens the rights of animals. As reported in Veterinary Economics magazine, animals classified as "social species" -- such as guinea pigs and parrots -- will be considered victims of abuse if they don't live or interact regularly with others of their own species. To promote fish health, fish-keepers must use aquariums with at least one opaque side and make sure the fish experience night and day light cycles. Flushing a sick fish down the toilet won't be permitted, either.

-- The gene that produces white or gray horses was a mutation that probably wouldn't have made it without human intervention, according to a story in the Times of London. White horses are at a competitive disadvantage in the wild and probably wouldn't have lived long enough to reproduce, had not people taken a fancy to their flashiness and preserved the mutation.

-- Dogs take a big bite out of insurance claims. One-third of U.S. liability claims paid out in 2007 were a result of dog bites, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The more than 14,000 claims represented a cost of more than $356 million, with an average cost per claim at $24,511. Dog owners are generally liable for injuries caused by their pets if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite, if the injury was caused by carelessness on the part of the owner, or if a state statute makes the owner liable, whether or not the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

THE SCOOP

From hissing to kissing: Two cats bond

When I brought home Ilario, my little orange tabby kitten, my biggest worry was my gray tabby cat, Clara. I wanted her to enjoy the feline company or, at the very least, not to loathe the new addition.

Four months later, the two are nearly inseparable. The key? A slow and patient introduction.

Successful feline introductions require laying the groundwork before you bring home new kittens or a cat. Prepare a room for your new cat, with food and water bowls, toys, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.

Then, start the introductions by pushing no introduction at all. Leave the new cat alone in the room with the door closed, and let him choose to explore in his own way and time.

Maintain each cat separately for a week or so, with lots of love and play for both. Then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Don't force the cats together.

As the days go by, you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. If they're willing, feed them in ever closer proximity, taking your cue from the cats as to how quickly to proceed.

Some cats will always maintain their own territories within the house, while others will happily share everything from litter boxes to food dishes. Some cats will always need separate litter boxes, scratching posts, bowls and toys -- and providing them is a small investment if it keeps the peace. -- Gina Spadafori

BY THE NUMBERS

Prevention is No. 1

While not all expensive pet-care emergencies can be prevented, the No. 1 and No. 3 problems on the list provided by the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (www.petinsurance.com), based on its claims in 2007, are entirely preventable. Keeping objects tucked away that a cat might play with and swallow can save your pet some misery -- and you some money. The top five most expensive cat health conditions and average veterinary fees paid, according to VPI:

1. Foreign body ingestion (small intestine), $1,629

2. Urinary tract reconstruction, $1,399

3. Foreign body ingestion (stomach), $1,391

4. Rectal cancer, $1,011

5. Bladder stones, $989

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Getting your pet to sleep at night

How can you get a good night's sleep when your pet won't let you? Pets wake people up for many reasons: to be fed, to be let out, or for companionship and attention. Cats, being nocturnal, are typically the biggest offenders. When you're asleep, it's time to play by their clock!

You can encourage pets to sleep through the night by increasing their exercise during the day and by waking them up when they nap. You can also feed your pet the biggest meal an hour before your bedtime and take dogs outside to go to the bathroom just before you retire.

Prepare your pet for the days you sleep in by establishing a late breakfast schedule. For difficult cases, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.

(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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