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

On a Leash

Leashes aren’t one-size-fits-all. Here’s how to choose the right one

By Mikkel Becker

Andrews McMeel Syndication

It seems like the simplest of purchases: a line to keep your dog at your side and under your control. But what you need in a leash is individual to your dog and the activities you do together. Here’s what to consider, whether you’re buying your new dog a leash for the first time or replacing an older leash.

Everyone needs a fixed-length leash. Typically made of leather or nylon, they are usually 6 to 8 feet long, although some are as short as 4 feet. With this type of leash, you know exactly how far your dog can move away from you, and it’s easy to keep him close as you’re crossing a street or if you see another dog or person approaching.

If you have a strong dog who likes to pull or chew, you may be considering a chain leash. These heavier leashes may help to reduce tugging, and they’re not as pleasant for dogs to chew on as leather and nylon. They do have drawbacks, though. A chain leash can pinch hands and skin if you grab it the wrong way. It’s also heavy and loud if dropped, so it may startle your dog.

You may have seen some fixed-length leashes with a second handle set closer to the dog’s neck. Known as traffic leashes, they’re not for everyday use or regular walks, but they come into play in crowded areas or places with lots of distractions. Use them only in these situations, for short periods. The short length of the leash can cause you to pull on your dog’s neck, restricting his airway. It also doesn’t allow your dog the opportunity to sniff and explore, which is an important part of walks for dogs.

Double dog leashes -- two leashes with a shared handle -- or attachments known as couplers can come in handy if you’re walking two dogs at once. They only work well, though, if your dogs have similar walking styles and don’t pull excessively. But if your dogs both have nice walking manners and go at the same pace, these types of leashes can be a great choice. Look for one with a swivel attachment to help prevent the leashes from tangling.

Some people like waist-clip leashes because they leave the hands free to hold a phone or use a clicker and treats more easily. Others like them for running with their dogs. They are best used with dogs who don’t tend to get underfoot, zigzag in front of you or take off at the sight of a squirrel or bunny, causing you to trip and fall. If you want a waist-clip leash, choose one with a quick-release mechanism in case of accident.

Another option is a multifunction leash. One version adjusts to six different lengths and configurations, including a waist attachment or walking two dogs at once.

A long line, which usually ranges from 10 to 30 feet, is a good secondary leash if you are teaching a puppy to come when called, want to give your dog some room to roam while still keeping him in check, or if you participate in dog sports such as nose work or tracking, where a long line can be useful.

A long line is a better choice than an extendable lead. Lots of people like the ease of a flexible leash on a reel, but these leashes are the bane of trainers, veterinarians and the people who are rushed by dogs on them when owners aren’t paying attention. They can cause friction burns and other injuries when used improperly, so I don’t recommend them.


Pain cream

toxic to pets

Q: I saw a meme on Facebook saying that Voltaren pain cream is toxic to dogs and cats. Is that true?

A: Yes. Diclofenac, the active ingredient in Voltaren, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat osteoarthritis pain. The topical 3% gel is also used to treat a skin problem called actinic keratosis.

Voltaren comes in a gel/jelly, cream, spray and extended-release patch. If you pet your animal after applying Voltaren without washing your hands with soap and water, or if pets lick your skin where the medication has been applied or chew on the patch, they can develop gastrointestinal ulcers and kidney damage.

Similar products that can cause problems include hormone patches or topical hormone sprays, creams and gels. Pets who ingest these products can experience hair loss, mammary or nipple enlargement, a shrunken penis in males, and bloody discharge or a swollen vulva in females.

A psoriasis cream called Dovonex, which contains a synthetic form of vitamin D (itself a hormone), can cause unusual thirst, appetite loss, and severe vomiting or diarrhea.

To protect pets, wear disposable gloves when applying gels or creams, and toss gloves in an inaccessible garbage can when you're through. The same goes for disposing of hormone patches. Apply creams or gels to areas your pet is unable or unlikely to lick, such as the inside of the thighs. If you're using a spray, wear clothing that covers the treated area. Even if you wear gloves to apply the product, wash your hands with soap thoroughly -- for as long as it takes you to sing "Happy Birthday" twice through -- before touching pets, children or food, including pet food.

Before you apply any product, prescription or otherwise, read the label or package insert to make sure it's not toxic to pets or children if ingested. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Brain scan:

where dogs count

-- A study published last month in the journal Biology Letters found that dogs use a distinct part of their brains -- corresponding closely to number-responsive neural regions in humans -- to spontaneously process basic numerical quantities. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan dogs’ brains as they viewed varying numbers of dots flashed on a screen. The results showed that the dogs’ parietotemporal cortex responded to differences in the number of the dots. “Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do -- it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it,” says Gregory Berns, Emory professor of psychology and senior author of the study.

-- If you’ve ever sniffed your dog’s paws -- admit it, you know you have -- you probably observed that they smell like corn chips. There’s a reason for that. According to researchers at the Dog Aging Project, the combination of microorganisms that paws accumulate when dogs walk on the ground, combined with sweat from the paw pads, creates the Frito-like aroma.

-- Normally, cats groom themselves using their spiked tongue to moisten fur and then lick it dry, removing dirt and dead hair in the process. Giving a cat a bath may seem contrary to all the rules of successfully living with one, but occasionally it’s necessary. Cats may be bathed before shows or therapy visits to nursing homes, hospitals or other facilities. Bathing removes dander, which contributes to allergies in people. It’s also necessary if a cat has gotten into something sticky or smelly, or if a cat with oily skin attracts dust and dirt. It’s not unheard of for owners to bathe cats monthly or even weekly if they’re sensitive to dander or have cats who leave oily spots on furniture or clothing. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets 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.