The longest weekend I ever spent was in a veterinary emergency clinic over a three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend. The truly appalling procession of animals hit by cars, cut jumping through windows and knocked down by heat made an impression on me I've never forgotten.
Almost every animal I saw that weekend wouldn't have needed to be there if someone had been just a little more careful. If they hadn't taken the dog along to a hot, noisy holiday celebration; if they'd locked up the cat so she wouldn't run in terror under the wheels of the car.
The weekend was a blur, one critical case right after the other. X-rays, emergency surgery, IVs for heat stroke -– it never stopped until at last the fireworks ended. Most pets made it, thanks to the skill of the veterinarians and technicians, but too many didn't.
This year, the Fourth falls on a Tuesday, which means many people will be making a four-day celebration of it -- and that the folks in the emergency clinics are again in for a very rough time.
While the Fourth is no picnic for pets -– or vets -- it doesn't really have to be life-threatening. A few commonsense precautions on your part are all it takes to make the day pass safely for your pet.
First, make sure your pets are secure. Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards or enticing gaps at the baseline that could be opened up with a little digging? Fix them all. An anxious pet might be more determined about escape than usual. Better still, bring all your pets in and consider confining them to a small area like a crate or carrier -- especially if you're not staying home to keep an eye on things. (If you are going out, it's usually better to leave your pets securely behind.)
Always assume your pet may become lost and plan accordingly. Collars and tags are tickets home for lost pets; for insurance, add a microchip. Some people worry about the safety of collars on their cats, but one look at all the healthy, well-fed, obviously lost strays in any shelter will tell you that the asset of a collar and tag far outweighs any risks. A shelter worker I know says she's never seen a cat die from a snagged collar, but she's seen too many die because they didn't have a way to be reunited with their owners.
While you're planning for the worst, figure out where you'd go for a veterinary emergency. Does your veterinary hospital staff for around-the-clock emergency care? Will they arrange for on-call care? Find out what your veterinarian offers before you need to know, and be sure that if you might be heading to an emergency clinic, you know the phone number and the location.
Finally, if you've got a pet for whom the noise is terrifying, talk to your veterinarian about tranquilizers you can administer at home to take the edge off the worst of it for your pet. You can also try some holistic alternatives, such as the Rescue Remedy, which should be available at any health-food store.
With one nearly deaf dog and two field-breed retrievers who aren't the least concerned about loud noises, my Fourth of July promises to be an easy one. But even I take no chances: The dogs will be locked inside, and I know by heart the number of the nearest emergency clinic. Knowing my pets are protected makes the holiday corn and watermelon taste all the sweeter.
PETS ON THE WEB
Ferrets just keep growing in popularity, even in those few places where they're illegal, like California. And there's a reason for their popularity. Ferrets are small, affectionate and playful pets who keep their owners smiling. As with any pet, though, the key to successful ferret-keeping is making sure you're the right fit for a pet ferret, and then providing what your ferret needs to thrive. Ferret Central (www.ferretcentral.org) has the answer to any questions you could possibly have about ferrets -– and in several languages, to boot! The site is clean, information-packed and easy to navigate, with tons of links to explore.
Mistakes happen pretty easily when it comes to an animal who breeds as often and easily as the cat. And many is the person meaning to get the new kitten to the veterinarian who is suddenly surprised to find out that the half-grown baby now has babies of her own. This "oops" factor is why so many shelters are now insisting on spaying and neutering kittens before they're released, leaving nothing to chance.
If your cat has had kittens, don't delay before arranging a spay, or you may end up with a second litter. Cats can become pregnant again not long after delivering kittens, and before you know it, you'll have yet another litter on your hands. Kittens start weaning at three to four weeks, and that's a good time to call your veterinarian and make an appointment to spay the mom.
At eight weeks, you can spay and neuter the kittens, making sure they won't be adding any "oops" litters in their new homes.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I read your article on introducing cats. I volunteer at the Houston SPCA cattery. After reading an article in Cat Fancy magazine, I recommend putting butter or whipped cream near the nose and the back end of both cats. They then smell alike and will be more accepting of each other. They won't get sick from the butter or cream (perfume has been suggested by some, but I wouldn't want my own cat ingesting perfume). What do you think? -- C.K., via e-mail
A: You can try the same thing with the oil from a can of tuna. Yes, it does seem to help, but I'm not so sure the cats themselves are fooled. They're likely just busy licking off all that great-tasting goo.
Most cats will get along fine with a newcomer, but you must give them time -- lots of time, in some cases. Territorial negotiations can be delicate and drawn out among cats. Let them work it out, and don't force them together.
Despite the initial hissy fit many cats throw when faced with a new housemate, adding a second cat can be a good idea. Indoor cats, especially, get bored and lonely when left alone all day. The addition of a second cat will help with both problems.
Kittens are sometimes easier to introduce to an established cat, but don't rule out a good-natured adult. The more the merrier!
Q: Our 9-year-old daughter has a pair of lop-eared bunnies, Elise and Albert, and we weren't paying all that much attention to them. She is a responsible girl and takes good care of them, so we rarely checked on them out in the hutch my husband built. Now we have quite a few rabbits, since Elise gave birth a few days ago. The local pet shop will take the babies when they're older, but we don't want a repeat performance. Can Elise be spayed? And can Albert be neutered? – R.F., via e-mail
A: They answer to both questions is an emphatic yes. In the hands of a veterinarian with experience in performing surgery on rabbits, spaying and neutering are safe and relatively commonplace procedures. Altering your pets has benefits beyond birth control, as well. As in cats and dogs, altered rabbits make better pets and are healthier. Unneutered males spray, pick fights with other animals and can be nippy with people. Unspayed females are susceptible to various reproductive cancers.
For years any kind of surgery was avoided if at all possible in rabbits, because they didn't handle traditional anesthesia well. Recent advances in anethestic materials and techniques and in understanding the differences between rabbits and the more common cats and dogs have all contributed to making surgery much safer.
Make sure you're dealing with a veterinarian who routinely handles rabbits. If you don't know if he does -– ask! Don't be shy, either, about getting a referral to another veterinarian who is more experienced with these animals, because your rabbit's life could be at risk if you don't. The nonprofit House Rabbit Society maintains a list of rabbit-approved veterinarians on its Web site, at www.rabbit.org.
Your daughter is doing well by her rabbits from what you say, but honestly, she's a little young yet to be taking full responsibility for the care of a pet. For the sake of Elise and Albert, please check daily to make sure they're getting the care they need.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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