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

CARE AND COGNITION

TWO RECENT BOOKS AIM TO MAKE PEOPLE BETTER PET OWNERS

By Kim Campbell Thornton

In more than 30 years of pet ownership, I've nursed a lot of animals: a diabetic cat, a greyhound with bone cancer, an old cat with kidney disease, dogs with congestive heart failure, a puppy with a scratched cornea and more. Everything I know, I learned the hard way.

During each of their illnesses, my animals were cared for by the best veterinarians, but once I got them home from the hospital, I sure could have used "The Feel Better Book For Cats & Dogs" (CreateSpace, December 2013). Written by certified veterinary technician Randi E. Golub, this independently published paperback covers every conceivable care situation a pet owner might encounter, from how to give medications and administer subcutaneous fluids to caring for senior pets and making end-of-life decisions.

"As a cat mom myself, I know it is often frightening and confusing when pets are ill," Golub says. "People want to do the very best for them but often feel helpless and occasionally frustrated. I want to give my readers tips on how to get medication into a pet with a minimum of stress for everyone, how to keep ill pets clean and comfortable, and how to get them to eat. I also wanted to offer support to people who are dealing with an ill or elderly pet, as this can be an emotional and exhausting time for a caretaker."

Golub jumps right into her advice with a chapter on getting organized. She recommends using a chart to track such things as medications, appetite and pain level and suggests useful supplies to have on hand.

The following chapters include instructions on such topics as tube feeding, collecting fecal and urine samples, assisting a cat or dog giving birth, neonatal puppy and kitten care, first aid, hospice care and more -- all offered in an easy-to-understand format and encouraging tone. Most important, there's advice on when to call a veterinarian.

"I advise people to use this book to help with minor medical concerns and always seek veterinary help when a pet has been ill for more than a day or two," she says.

As someone who writes frequently about dog behavior and training, and who fields a lot of questions from confused or frustrated dog owners, I have often wished there was an accessible compilation of all the latest information about canine cognition and how to use it to better understand our dogs.

Now there is. The members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, led by editors Debra F. Horwitz, D.V.M., John Ciribassi, D.V.M., and pet journalist Steve Dale, have written "Decoding Your Dog" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2014), a manual on dog ownership from acquisition to old age.

Chapters address how dogs learn, housetraining, building and managing relationships between kids and dogs, the importance of giving a dog a job, dealing with a dog who's reluctant to have his nails trimmed or teeth brushed, and more.

The authors use anecdotes to illustrate their advice, separate myth from fact, and provide a recap at the end of each chapter. Specialized terms such as intermittent reinforcement, extinction burst, marker signal and stimulation are defined throughout. The techniques rely solely on positive training methods, and the text thoroughly debunks the misguided ideas that dogs do things out of spite and show guilt after wrongdoing.

I asked Dr. Horwitz the most important takeaway for readers.

"Our companion dogs are not out to 'dominate us,' they don't misbehave to spite us, but rather they may not understand how we want them to behave, or they are anxious and frightened," she says.

Some experienced dog owners may find the information basic, but it's more likely that they will learn at least one or two new things. For new dog owners or those who want an interesting and readable primer on dog behavior, this book is a valuable resource.

Q&A

Pet life spans depend

on multiple factors

Q: I've always heard that pets age seven years for every year a human lives. Is that true? What's the best way to estimate my dog's age in human years? And how long can pets live? -- via email

A: It would be great if there were an easy formula for figuring out a pet's age "in people years," but many variables affect the rate at which a dog or cat ages, including size, breed and environment. For instance, outdoor cats face more hazards than indoor cats, so their nine lives may not last quite as long.

Pets mature rapidly during their first two years, and then the rate at which they age slows down. Instead of multiplying by seven, think of a 1-year-old dog as equivalent to a 12-year-old child. By the time he's 2 years old, the dog has bounded into adulthood, with a human-equivalent age of 24 years. For every year after that, add four years.

We can all agree that pets don't live long enough. A few outliers live to be 20 years or more, but that's rare. Many pets are living to be 15 or older, and size seems to be the determining factor. Toy breeds and cats tend to have the longest life spans, often living well into their teens. Some giant breeds live to be only 6 or 8 years old.

Good genes, good nutrition and good weight management also influence longevity. If you're buying a puppy from a breeder, ask how long her dogs usually live. Keep your dog on the thin side throughout life to prevent stress on organs, bones and joints, especially during puppyhood. Dogs who aren't allowed to get fat live an average of two years longer than those who pack on the pounds. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

THE BUZZ

More meals, smaller amounts

help cats to lose weight

-- Want your cat to lose weight? Feed four small meals per day instead of leaving food out all the time. A study published last month in the Journal of Animal Science found that cats who eat multiple times daily are more active than cats who eat only once or twice a day. The activity levels of the cats studied increased in anticipation of the meals. If you're not home during the day to feed your cat, consider purchasing a timed feeder with two compartments that will open at different times. You can feed your cat his other two meals in the morning and evening when you're at home.

-- National Puppy Day is March 23. Here are six ways to celebrate: Start off on the right paw by scheduling an appointment with a trainer on the day you bring your puppy home. Take your puppy to the veterinarian for a fun visit where he gets only treats and petting, nothing scary or painful. Spend time with him playing with his favorite toy. Teach your puppy to walk nicely on leash so you can enjoy outings together. Inspect your home and yard to make sure they are puppy-proof. Start teaching your puppy to accept having his teeth brushed and nails trimmed. (Be careful not to hurt him!)

-- Massachusetts has amended its exotic animal laws to permit the keeping of certain species of reptiles as pets, according to Reptiles Magazine. Now allowed to take up legal residency in the state are green tree pythons (Chondropython spp.); emerald tree boas (Corallus caninus); all species of Ameiva spp., better known as jungle runners or dwarf tegu; chameleons belonging to the family Chamaeleonidae; frilled lizards (Chlamydosaurus spp.); spiny-tailed lizards (Uromastyx spp.); and spiny-tailed or ridge-tailed monitors (Varanus acanthurus). -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

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 Vetstreet.com 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 Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.