It's a New Year's tradition around my home, one that has outlived a handful of pets, but it still works to ensure the safety of the animals who share their lives with me now.
Yes, dear readers, it's time for the annual New Year's neck check. I started pushing for this tradition a decade ago, and I still believe it's as important as ever. Like checking your smoke detector batteries twice a year when the time changes, checking your pet's collar and tags annually will ensure that an important safety measure is in place should you and your pet ever need it.
Why New Year's? Because it's easy to remember, and besides, what else are you going to do besides eat, drink and watch football? Start your neck check with a look at your pet's collar first. A properly fitted collar is important, but so too is the right type. For dogs, a buckled or snap-together collar made of leather or nylon webbing is the best choice, and the proper fit is comfortably close but not too snug. Make sure your dog's not wearing a "choke" collar. These are for training and walking only, and they pose a life-threatening hazard if left on an unsupervised dog.
Cats should be wearing a collar with an elastic section that will allow your pet to wriggle free if he gets caught on something. If you do have the right kind of collar on your pet, take a minute to look at the holes and the fasteners. The collar is weakest at these spots, so if you see signs of excessive wear or strain, you'll need to replace the collar soon.
If the collar passes muster, it's time to look at the tags. A license is great, but since many lost pets are picked up by people in the neighborhood, it's a good idea to supplement the license with an ID tag that has a couple of phone numbers -- yours and the number of a friend or relative. Check to make sure the information is current and legible, and if not, make a note to order a new tag right away. I never put the pet's name or my address on the tags. Instead, the tags say "REWARD!" with a collection of phone numbers. I want to get the point across that I want my pets back quickly.
My pets also carry tags from a company I really like, 1-800-HELP4PETS. The service is available 24 hours a day, and it can also authorize veterinary care if your lost pet is injured and you cannot be immediately located. The service is $40 for the first year and $25 per year after that. (More information is available by calling the 1-800 number, or by visiting www.help4pets.com on the Web.)
Don't delay in fixing any problems you find with your pet's neck check. Problems with collars and tags are easy to fix -- and collars and tags are the cheapest insurance you can buy against loss or accidents.
A final note: A microchip is another form of identification well worth considering. The tiny transponder, about the size of a grain of rice, is inserted by a veterinarian over the shoulder blades of dogs and cats, or in the breast of birds, and serves as a permanent identification that cannot be slipped off or removed.
If you have a microchip implanted in your pet, it's not possible to check for the chip as part of your New Year's neck check. But do make a mental note to ask your veterinarian to scan for it the next time your pet visits. Most veterinarians have hand-held devices that can detect the presence of a chip, and can determine if it has stayed put in a spot where it can be found by shelter workers, should your pet ever stray.
Remember, though, that a microchip doesn't take the place of ID tags. They complement each other, and even if your pet is chipped, he should still wear tags.
PETS ON THE WEB
Want to know more about the medication your veterinarian sends home for your pet? Then you'll want to bookmark the Pet Care Forum's medication database (www.vin.com/PetCare/Articles/VetHospital/M00762.htm). The Pet Care Forum is the Veterinary Information Network's effort to provide the general public with the expertise of top veterinarians and other animal experts. (VIN itself, with which I have been associated for years, is an online service for veterinarians.)
The online medications section is the work of Dr. Wendy Brooks, who provides the details on a few dozen drugs commonly used in veterinary practice, from over-the-counter products such as aspirin and Benadryl to such high-profile prescription offerings as the arthritis drug Rimadyl.
Incidentally, if you'd like to have an expanded reference in book form, order a copy of "The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat," by veterinarians Kate A.W. Roby and Lenny Southam (Bantam Books, $6.99). I can't recommend it enough.
The Wall Street Journal reports that with more and more hotels taking in pets, it's a natural progression for the travel industry to now be putting together pet-friendly vacations. Walking tours and winery visits are already being offered, as well as a packaged tour of the south of France.
The last destination is a natural: As much as we North Americans love our dogs, the French go one step further when it comes to embracing the dogs of others. Dogs are a common sight in restaurants and shops, places where those of us on this side of the Atlantic would never dream of being allowed with a dog in tow.
The Journal notes that for those looking for upscale travel with their dogs, the Petswelcome.com Web site is launching its own travel service this summer, and is planning to put together tours that include some very grand digs, indeed.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My niece has a small female dog she loves to death. Not only does she care for the dog, but she also clothes her. Recently she brought up the idea of piercing the ears of her dog. Is this cruel and unjust? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: You're putting me on, right? Really, I can't imagine it would be any more cruel, unjust or painful than the ear-piercing my cousin and I got at the mall when we were 12, but it's likely you'd have to add anesthesia to the mix to get a dog to sit still for it. That would up both the cost and the risk.
This is one genie that needs to be put back in the bottle and corked up but good. I'd hate to see something like this catch on. What a waste of money and a needless infliction of pain!
Tell your niece to make a donation to a pet shelter just for thinking up such nonsense and to put the idea out of her mind for good. Making the poor dog wear clothes every day is bad enough.
Q: I want to offer a tip to people with hard-of-hearing pets. I have a deaf cat, and my old Chihuahua is going deaf, too. I blow on those pets to wake them. I can start with a gentle puff, and if that isn't enough I can blow a bit harder. The effect is "adjustable" that way, unlike stamping on the floor. -- B.B., via e-mail
A: Just make sure you aren't too close to your pets' faces when you blow. One of the problems with deaf animals is that they can react with a snap if startled from a sound sleep. I don't want your face to be too close if that happens.
My friend Peggy takes care of my dog Andy when I'm out of town. The old boy's not completely deaf, but he sure doesn't hear what he used to. Peggy is retired from a career as a nurse, and over the years she discovered that older patients with hearing loss seemed to have an easier time hearing voices that were lower, more male than female in tone. So she started making a conscious effort to lower her voice to a growly baritone (or as close as she could get to it) when talking with such patients.
Last time Andy stayed with her, she tried the technique on him, too. And it worked just as well.
So instead of just upping the volume with heard-of-hearing pets, you might also try lowering the tone.
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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