Halloween is just around the corner, which means it has been possible to get bags of candy at any grocery store for weeks now. They sell it early, I figure, with the idea that people will buy a bag or two, eat it themselves, and then buy more for the trick-or-treaters just before the doorbells start ringing on Halloween night.
It's a fine plan, I suppose, and I've nothing against people eating all the candy they can stand, just as long as the goodies stay out of the mouths of pets. While cats are generally pretty picky about what they eat, dogs love most anything even slightly edible, and they like it in the largest amounts possible. With wrappers still attached, in some cases.
Such behavior can mean a pretty sick dog and a trip to the veterinarian.
Chocolate is toxic to dogs, but any unusual food can lead to a canine bellyache. For some dogs, the ailment veterinarians casually refer to as "garbage pail gastritis" can lead to problems that aren't funny at all, such as pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening. That's why it's important not to share any holiday goodies with your pet, and to store any candy where your dog can't get to it.
Bellyaches aren't the only risk to pets on Halloween. Fortunately, the others are just as easy to avoid, using commonsense precautions.
Holiday activities can make cats and dogs nervous, and some will take off if they can. Some will become lost and never found, while others may be hit by cars and injured or killed. Those animals who don't get the urge to run may instead become territorial and present a bite risk. The best solution for all pets is precautionary: Lock them up. Bring outside animals in and keep them in a secure place for the night -- a back bedroom, perhaps, or a crate.
Humane societies say such precautions are especially important for black cats, who may become the target of pranksters who think hurting an animal is amusing. How many real-life cases of such abuse turn up any given year isn't known, but the risk is considered high enough that many shelters will not adopt-out black animals in the days before Halloween, just so there's no chance of the pets falling into the wrong hands.
In truth, it really doesn't matter what color your pet is. Keep him secured inside for the night, and you'll be keeping him safe.
And what about costumes for pets? While it's still best to leave animals in on the holiday itself, there's no reason your pet can't participate in a costume competition before the actual holiday if he has the temperament for it. Be sure any costume you have is comfortable for your pet. It shouldn't obscure vision or constrict around the neck and chest. And if you use any dye or paint, check to make sure it's safe before applying.
We've always had a great deal of fun in my family with Halloween. My big retriever, Benjamin, has even won a prizes for his "reverse Dalmatian" costume, with round, white stickers affixed to his jet-black fur. But come Halloween night, I take no chances. All the animals are safe inside before darkness falls on this spooky holiday.
PETS ON THE WEB
Just in time for Halloween, here's a Web site for those who are interested in a pet that's sure to scare their friends. The American Tarantula Society (www.atshq.org) has put together a site that celebrates these large arachnids (that's spiders to the rest of us) with useful care information as well as articles that are more in-depth and academic in tone.
Most interesting is the gift shop, where you can buy T-shirts, books and even live spiders. Yes, for as little as $6 each, you can have a baby tarantulas show up in your mailbox. (The stuff of some people's nightmares is a dream come true to others, I suppose.) The ATS site also has pictures, and a nifty bulletin board frequented by serious hobbyists and beginners alike.
Between the sizzle of summer and the wet of winter comes a season when the seed pods of dried grasses are at their pointy-edged worst. Foxtails, burrs and more -- they're all looking to hitchhike on whatever animal happens their way. Dogs with long or curly hair are the most vulnerable to picking up these nuisances, and the burrs can be very difficult to remove.
A trick used by many a hunter is to apply a little Pam cooking spray to the area to help lubricate the fur so the burr can be eased free with a wide-toothed comb and fingers. It's safe and it works. Be sure to buy the nonflavored variety, though, unless you want your dog to end up smelling like a bowl of buttered popcorn.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I loved your recent column on pet photography. Another good reason to take pictures often is that if a pet is lost, a current photo is a must to create good fliers to show to people in the area. -- A.M., via e-mail
A: That's true. It's always a good idea to have a number of clear color pictures on hand just in case your pet gets lost. Best bet: pictures taken from the side, "show-dog style," with an uncluttered background.
It's a good idea to have a file for each pet, a single place in which to collect pictures, health records, registration papers, licensing information, and any paperwork related to tattoos, microchips or any permanent form of ID. On the inside cover of the file, record the name and phone number of your pet's veterinarian, along with information on after-hours care, such as an emergency veterinary clinic.
Even better, prepare your file in duplicate, and give a copy to a trusted friend or neighbor. In the event that you should become unable to care for your pets -- if you're in an accident, for example -- having that information in someone else's hands will ensure your pets will be well cared for until you can take over again.
Q: We already own a 2-year-old male cat, and we love him so much. But as we are often gone either to work or school during the day, we have been thinking about adding a new kitten to our home to give our cat some company.
My husband says that since we already own a male, we need to get a female because he thinks they will fight less. I want to get another male because every female cat I've ever met has been way too ... um ... not nice. What is your opinion on what the sex of our new kitten should be? -- G.W., via e-mail
A: In general, it's good to mix the sexes, so since you have a male already, a female may be the better choice. That said, I know many people happily caring for same-sex pairs of cats who get along splendidly.
Male and female cats make equally good pets, under one very important condition: altering. No matter the gender, a cat who is what the experts call "whole" or "intact" (in other words, fully equipped to reproduce) is a royal pain to live with.
When females are in season, which happens pretty much whenever they're not pregnant, they're yowly escape artists who attract noisy suitors from miles around. Some people think males are even worse. By the time they're sexually mature, males begin spraying, marking territory with a special pheromone-spiked urine with a smell that's not only foul but also nearly impossible to eradicate. Intact males are also roamers and fighters.
After cats are altered, is one gender a better pet than the other? The answer depends on whom you ask. Some people believe males are a little more outgoing; others suggest that females are smarter. Perhaps the biggest reason some people prefer one gender over another can be summed up by using the word "always" -- they have always had males (or females), have always been happy with their choices, and see no reason to change.
Both male and female cats make good pets, and I can't really steer you one way or another. If you have a personal preference, go with it. If not, go with the kitten or cat that touches your heart, no matter what the gender.
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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