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

FLEEING FLAMES

PACK A BAG FOR YOUR PET AND YOURSELF IN CASE YOU HAVE TO EVACUATE DURING A DISASTER

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Melissa Duffy was driving away from her home in Carlsbad, California, when she glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that the horizon was black with smoke. It was the Poinsettia fire, one of 11 fires raging in San Diego County just two weeks ago. She went back, loaded up her three dogs and went to a friend's house.

Wildfires have also broken out recently in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Fire season in the western United States is beginning weeks earlier than usual this year, and the National Interagency Fire Center predicts above-normal fire hazards through August in much of the West. If you live in a dry or drought-stricken area, be prepared to evacuate quickly with your pets.

Duffy grabbed her dogs' medications and food. One of her dogs is on a strict medical diet, and two require regular medication. She keeps a first-aid kit and leashes in the car.

Many people who live in areas prone to earthquakes, floods or fires keep a "go bag" at hand. It should contain important documents, including copies of your pets' vaccination records; a supply of food and water for at least two or three days (a week or more is better); medications for your pets or yourself; a change of clothes; and a favorite toy for your pet to help him feel at home wherever you land. Cat owners may want to have a disposable litter box and litter easily available if they need to grab and go.

Those are the basics. Dog trainer Liz Palika, who lives in fire- and earthquake-prone Southern California, has an extensive go-bag that she keeps right inside the garage door so it can be reached even if her house collapses. In addition to the above items, it contains dog bowls, poop bags, camping gear, a first-aid kit, flashlight and batteries, a hand-cranked radio and truck keys. Store items in a large duffle bag or even a large trash can if it will fit in your vehicle.

Palika has another smart hint:

"Take photos with your smartphone of your prescriptions, pet prescriptions and pet shot records. Organize those on your phone into two files: yours and your pets'. Back them up on a memory card. Keep them on your phone, but put the memory card with your first-aid kit. When anything changes, update it."

Know where you can go, and have more than one backup plan. Duffy was able to get back home from her friend's house, but later woke up to sirens and the smell of smoke and had to leave again.

"Our first two 'go-to' friends were also threatened, so we had to find somewhere else to go," she says. "Four friends offered us their homes, and since we have three dogs, I would rather go there than to a hotel or shelter."

Some disaster shelters now allow pets, but it's not something you can count on. Keep a list of local pet-friendly hotels on your smartphone if you don't have friends or relatives who can take in pets. And if all else fails, ask if a hotel will waive its "no pets" rule. Many will when disaster strikes.

Keep pets restrained when they are in a strange place. A Craigslist ad for a lost dog noted that the yellow Lab ran off from the home where the owners were staying after they evacuated from the fires. He was microchipped but wasn't wearing his collar.

Exchange keys with neighbors so you can care for each other's pets if one family isn't home when disaster strikes. Have a plan for communicating via text, Twitter or Facebook that a pet is safe. Even if disaster never strikes, you'll rest easier knowing that you and your pets are prepared.

Q&A

Cat scratch furor:

7 tips to serenity

Q: My new cat is scratching my furniture. I have a cat tower, but he doesn't use it. One of my friends suggested squirting the cat with water when he scratches, but I don't want to frighten him. Any suggestions? -- via email

A: It's a fact of life that cats scratch. They don't do it just to sharpen their claws, either. Scratching is one of the ways cats communicate. It leaves traces of scent deposited from glands in the paws. People can't detect it, but other cats can. That's why cats want to scratch in a prominent area, which may well be your sofa, instead of the dark corner where you may have placed his post.

Scratching also helps keep paws and claws in shape, shedding the dead keratin that sheathes the claws and exercising the muscles in the legs and paws. And stretching up to scratch just feels good.

Your cat's scratching post should be at least three feet high and covered in something other than carpet. Materials like rope, sisal, hemp and burlap offer texture and "shreddability." The bonus is that your cat won't mistake them for the carpet on the floor. The post should also be sturdy, so your cat doesn't have to worry that it will fall over while he's using it.

Try putting the post next to the sofa that he's scratching or in front of a window so he can check out the birds and squirrels while he's scratching. That's a turn-on for any cat.

Encourage your cat to use the post by running your fingers up and down it or brushing a feather alongside it. The motion will attract him and entice him to scratch. A little catnip might help, too. Finally, praise your cat or give him a treat every time you see him using the post. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Investigation finds DEET,

antiviral drug in jerky treats

-- Chicken jerky treats consumed by dogs who became sick have been found to contain the insect repellent DEET and the drug amantadine, reports Edie Lau for the Veterinary Information Network News Service. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Food Laboratory in Albany analyzed the samples, and last year detected illegal antibiotics in pet treats containing chicken imported from China. Veterinary pathologist Kendal Harr, who is leading an investigation into the cause of the tainted pet treats, says it's unclear whether the substances caused the dogs' illnesses, but that the illegal residues point to a contaminated food source. The Food and Drug Administration does not believe that amantadine -- an antiviral medication that is FDA-approved for use in people -- contributed to the illnesses because its known side effects are not the same as those seen in jerky pet treat-related cases, but it has notified Chinese authorities that the drug's presence in these products is not permitted.

-- By car and plane, caravans of Chihuahuas are being transported from Arizona to Idaho, the East Coast and other areas where the little dogs are in big demand. The New York Times reports that Arizona shelters are overflowing with the tiny dogs. When they can't take in any more, shelters and rescue groups arrange transport through organizations such as Dog Is My Copilot and Pilots N Paws to areas where they have a better chance at adoption.

-- Who says cats can't be protective? A California cat went on the warpath last month after a loose dog attacked her family's 4-year-old son. The boy was riding his bike in the driveway when the dog appeared and dragged him off it. The cat jumped the dog and drove him away. Cats are territorial, and they will take action when their space is invaded. -- Dr. Marty Becker and 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.