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


(NOTE TO EDITORS: This column originally appeared on Oct. 17, 2011.)

Our culture has become very pet-friendly, but as much as I love this shift in attitude, I am also aware that some people don't approve of the change, especially when other people start planning to bring dogs home for the holidays.

Now I'm a veterinarian, not a family counselor. But I do have some suggestions for minimizing the friction between those who always want their dogs with them and those who believe pets should never be imposed on people who don't like them.

When bringing together people and pets, everyone should be honest about potential problems, as well as likes and dislikes. And you need to be honest with yourself about your dog. Is your pet well-socialized, well-mannered, and well-groomed? If not, your dog's not ready to tag along on a family visit. Your pet should also be up to date on preventive health measures, especially those involving parasites.

If your dog is a party-ready animal, ask your host if it's OK to bring your dog along. Never just show up at someone's house with a pet in tow.

My "ground rules" suggestion is that the person who has the ground sets the rules, and the decision to bend or break them is hers alone. If you want to take your pet to a family gathering but your son-in-law says absolutely not in his house, respect that. If your host has pets who don't get along with or would be stressed by a canine visitor, respect that, too.

If you're dealing with someone who will become ill if exposed to a pet, the discussion is over. Leave your pet out of the mix. This extends to people who are afraid of animals or when there will be other guests who might be at high risk of injury around a pet, such as your great-great-aunt who has already broken her hip twice.

If you've been invited to bring your dog along, here's what you will need:

-- A considerate attitude

Taking your dog to someone else's place is a privilege. Ask where your dog is and isn't allowed to be and where you'll be taking him to potty.

-- Potty bags

You will need to pick up after your pet. And ask where those little bags should go after you pick up.

-- Leash

Your dog might be awesome at home, but in a new environment you never can tell. Good manners dictate you keep your pup under control.

-- Crate

Taking a crate when you visit someone allows you to give your dog a room of his own wherever you are and provides your host with options to accommodate other guests.

-- Food dishes

Don't expect to borrow bowls from your host's kitchen. Take your own and ask where you should clean them after meals. Don't be offended if it's a utility sink in the garage.

-- Linens

It's a good idea to take a sheet to throw over your bed if you're allowed to have your dog in your bedroom when you stay over at someone's house. Pack towels as well, since your host may not want you to use the good towels to dry your dog.

If you're a considerate guest, chances are even those who don't like dogs won't have complaints -- and you and your dog will be welcome back. That's the goal, isn't it?


Gagging cat may

have feline asthma

Q: My cat is gagging all the time, but he doesn't bring up hairballs and sometimes seems to wheeze as well. What can I give him that will help? -- via email

A: Hairballs often take the blame for a cat's chronic coughing, but the problem could be deeper than that.

Symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, open-mouthed breathing and heaving may indicate a cat with asthma. These attacks can be brought on by stress and allergens, with common allergens including cigarette smoke, pollen, dust, mold, aerosols, perfume, deodorizers, dusty cat litter and food. Common treatment ranges from allergy medication similar to bronchodilators to oxygen therapy.

There's nothing over-the-counter that will help your cat with the problem. You'll need to see your veterinarian for a correct diagnosis that will lead to the right treatment for a potentially dangerous health issue. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Fat cats can get stuck

Q: My cat seems to get herself stuck a lot. Shouldn't she know how to figure out where she should fit? -- via email

A: Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because cats don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle. That's if those bodies are sleek, of course.

The world is full of fat cats, after all, and for these chubby felines, fitting through tiny holes is not a sure bet. Cats may find themselves in a tight spot because they don't realize they can't fit through. That's because a cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does, normally allowing the cat to gauge where she can slide through. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which often leads corpulent cats into sticky situations. -- Pet Connection

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


Cats don't dig

the sweet stuff

-- People crave sweets -- cakes, candies, cookies and sodas galore -- but cats are generally unimpressed. A cat's taste buds are incapable of detecting, appreciating or triggering a craving for foods that we recognize as "sweet." As "obligate carnivores" (animals who need meat protein to survive), cats simply don't need sweets. It's unclear whether the ancestors of cats had the ability to detect sweetness and lost it, or whether cats never developed a "sweet tooth," since they didn't need it. People (and dogs, for that matter) eat a much more varied diet, and human taste buds reflect that -- we have nearly 10,000 on our tongues. No such variety for cats: They're happy to stick with small prey animals and need fewer than 500 taste buds to figure what's on the menu and what isn't.

-- Dogs may be able to blame their tail-chasing habit on high cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice and reported in Veterinary Economics. Turkish researchers found that dogs who didn't chase their tails had lower levels of cholesterol than the tail-chasers did. Dogs may chase their tails because the high cholesterol levels have blocked the flow of brain hormones controlling mood and behavior. The study suggests that an increase in exercise could help lower the tail-chasing. There may be other medical reasons for tail-chasing as well, so if your dog is chasing his rump, let your veterinarian know.

-- The trade publication Veterinary Economics named the best 10 U.S. cities for a dog-friendly vacation. In order, they are: Portland, Ore.; Chicago; San Diego; Seattle; Philadelphia; Minneapolis; Austin, Texas; Alexandria, Va./Washington D.C.; New York City; and Indianapolis, Ind. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: Before taking a dog to visit family, the health and safety of everyone -- pets and people, alike -- must be considered. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Dogs who chase their tails may have a nutritional imbalance. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2