Pet Connection

Prevention Is Good Medicine

Common-sense care keeps pets healthy and injury-free

Andrews McMeel Syndication

If you’re a parent, you’ve been swamped with back-to-school preparations. If you’re a pet parent, it’s also a good time of year to practice some preventive care to keep your dog or cat healthy.

Inoculations. Pets need vaccinations early in life -- usually a series of “core” vaccines for parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus and rabies for puppies, and feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, feline panleukopenia virus, feline leukemia virus and rabies for kittens -- followed by a booster when they are 1 year old. Ideally, puppies should receive the final parvovirus and distemper vaccinations when they are at least 16 weeks old because they may not develop a good response to the vaccine before that age.

After that, booster shots are recommended only every three years. Better yet, ask your veterinarian to “titer” your pet every three years to see if the immunity from the vaccines still holds. The rabies vaccine is an exception: Most states require it triennially for dogs and do not allow exceptions even if a titer shows the dog is still protected.

Talk to your veterinarian about whether your pet needs any “non-core” vaccinations for diseases that may be seen in your area or that are specific to an animal’s lifestyle. For instance, a canine influenza vaccine may be a good idea for dogs who travel frequently to dog shows or other competitions where they are in contact with other dogs, or who are boarded or go to dog parks. Farm dogs or dogs who frequent areas where there are wild mammals may benefit from a vaccination for leptospirosis. In cats, the Bordetella vaccine is not routinely recommended unless they are at high risk of exposure from being in crowded environments.

Injuries. Not every injury is preventable, of course, but taking steps to reduce their likelihood helps. Pet-proofing your home and yard is the most effective way to prevent accidents. Better yet, it doesn’t cost anything.

Indoors, make sure medications are well out of reach. Poisonings from human medications are one of the top reasons for calls to pet poison control hotlines. Just 15 seconds is all it takes for dogs to break into childproof bottles. The same goes for trash and foods that could cause digestive upset.

Outdoors, walk the perimeter of your yard to check for weak spots in fences or gates, and repair them. Pull up mushrooms and toadstools that might attract pets who are willing to down anything that looks edible. If you live with one of those animals, avoid putting out snail bait, rat poison or other toxic substances; it’s not worth the risk of a trip to the ER or, worse, a death. Some owners teach their “I’ll-eat-anything” dogs to wear a basket muzzle when they’re outdoors so they don’t swallow sticks, pine cones, toxic mushrooms or other objects that can cause problems.

Part of pet-proofing includes teaching animals to respond quickly to the cues “come” and “leave it,” which can prevent them from running into the street or nabbing something tasty but toxic.

Internal and external parasites. Get an update from your veterinarian about the latest in parasite prevention. Products are available that repel ticks and fleas and prevent roundworms, heartworms and other internal parasites from getting a toehold in your pet’s gut and causing irritation or disease.

Other preventive tips. Keep ear problems at bay by checking frequently for redness or foul odors and noticing if your pet frequently scratches at ears or shakes his head. Ward off skin problems by brushing the coat to remove dirt, distribute skin oils, and remove dead hair so it doesn’t mat and tangle; thoroughly rinsing the coat with fresh water after swimming in pools, lakes or saltwater; and cleaning and drying loose skin folds regularly to prevent bacteria and yeast growth.


Cat swings from

nice to naughty

Q: Our cat seems to have two personalities. She is an 8-year-old rescue that we have had for a few months. She can be sweet when she wants to sit by us or when she jumps up on our bed, but more often, she is on the defensive. When we bend down to pet her, she usually tries to bite. Sometimes she reaches out for passing legs. No one dares pick her up. Any suggestions? Do you think it had something to do with her previous life?

A: Cats are more comfortable when they are the ones doing the “choosing” when it comes to initiating closeness or interaction with a person, especially if they’re fearful. Acting out when being petted could be a defensive response caused by fear. Swatting at legs as people walk by could be a type of predatory play behavior.

A consultation with a Fear Free-certified veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist who can see your cat’s behavior in person could help you get a better picture of why your cat acts the way she does or uncover underlying health issues that may be contributing to her behavior.

What animals learn during early life can forever impact their adult personalities and comfort level with humans and their environment. Animals can still learn throughout life, but their basic resilience in the face of stress is formed early. That said, you can do some training exercises to build your relationship, communication and her confidence. One is to turn petting into a positive by pairing the reach of your hand with a desirable reward, such as a favorite treat or toy. A skilled behaviorist or trainer can offer other suggestions. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Dogs’ noses aid

disease detection

-- Could your doctor have a canine assistant one day? Bio-detection dogs sniff out the scent of diseases such as cancer by checking urine or fecal samples, breath odor or skin swabs. They can be a “second opinion” for cancers that are sometimes difficult to diagnose, such as prostate cancer. Studies are also examining their ability to identify the presence of malaria and Parkinson’s disease. Other canine medical aides are trained to notice minute changes in a person’s odor, alerting them to impending seizures or abnormal blood sugar or hormone levels. These medical-alert dogs primarily work with people who have seizure disorders or diabetes, but some have been trained to help people with Addison’s disease and severe food allergies.

-- Scammers have invaded pet adoptions. Be cautious when adopting through online rescue groups or individual placements. If the organization or person placing the pet asks you to wire money or send a pre-paid debit or gift card to cover the cost of shipping the pet to you, it’s likely a fraudulent transaction. Once they receive payment, you may be hit up for more fees to cover nonexistent emergency vet visits or the cost of a crate or pet health insurance. Or they may claim the animal has been shipped, but the pet never arrives. For more information, check BBB Scam Tracker ( and IPATA’s (International Pet and Animal Transportation Association) page on pet scams (

-- We know Pomeranians as toy breeds, but in the 19th century, they were much larger dogs, weighing 20 to 30 pounds before being bred down in size. Today, they typically weigh 3 to 7 pounds, but oversize ones are not unusual and can be a good choice for families. Poms come in many colors and patterns, including orange, white, black, chocolate, sable, cream, black and tan, brindle, and blue. -- Kim Campbell Thornton


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.

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