Spring can be sneaky when it comes to putting your pet at risk. That's because heat can cause problems for pets, even on days that we would consider merely warm.
Dogs are most vulnerable. We get comfortable with taking our dogs on errands in the cooler months, leaving them in the car while we run into the grocery, dry cleaner or pharmacy. While no intelligent pet owner would leave a dog in the car on a day in the 90s or above, it's easy not to realize the risk when the temperature is in the 70s and 80s.
The trouble is, a temperature that's pleasant outside of the car could end up being very hot inside, even with the windows cracked. Cars are like greenhouses, collecting heat through the glass of their windows and allowing it to build up inside. Even on days in the 70s or 80s, a car in the sunshine can become uncomfortably warm -- and even deadly if left long enough. Dogs are not efficient at cooling themselves and can die quickly in a hot car.
The best solution? Leave your dog at home. It's not all that great an idea to leave your dog in the car even when warm weather isn't a problem. Pet thieves aren't all that common, but they are out there (as are car thieves, who won't care a jot about your pet if your vehicle is stolen).
Hot cars aren't the only heat danger -- exercise is another. Many of us get a wild hair about exercising in the spring, sometimes starting running programs that neither people nor dogs are fit enough to start. Whether you're an established exerciser or a beginner, remember that in warm weather it's better to take your dog out in the cool of morning, and then build up your time and distance slowly.
If your pet is old or overweight, don't start until checking with your veterinarian. Exercise is great for you and your dog, but only if done properly and with an eye toward safety.
Here are some additional springtime safety tips for all pets.
-- Keep caged pets from overheating. Make sure cages for birds, reptiles and small mammals are placed in an area that's well-lighted but out of the direct sun. Pets who are kept in cages have no ability to leave an area if it becomes too hot, so it's up to us to make sure their environment is comfortable.
-- Make sure pets always have clean, fresh water. Dishes and water bottles should be emptied, rinsed and refilled a couple of times a day. A thorough cleaning with warm soapy water (rinse well) should be done at least weekly. Check water bottles frequently by pressing your finger against the tip to make sure there is no blockage. Some clever parrots love to make a game out of pushing food into the steel neck of water bottles, so be on alert if yours is one of these tricksters.
-- Beware of chemical hazards. Spring is a great time for shade-tree mechanics to work on their cars, but be sure to carefully clean up any spills. Most deadly among the car-related fluids is coolant. A cat can die after walking through an antifreeze spill and then cleaning the liquid off his paws. In recent years, products have come on the market that are not so lethal; check them out at your auto-supply store.
Household chemicals claim unintended victims every year as well. Keep pets out of areas where snail bait, insecticides or poisons intended for rodents are in use. As for herbicides and fertilizers, follow directions carefully and do not allow pets into a treated area until the chemicals have dried.
Spring is a wonderful time of year, and you and your pet will enjoy it more if you take a few preventive measures to ensure that the season will be a safe one.
PETS ON THE WEB
Dogs who hunt by locating prey with their eyes instead of their nose are called sight hounds, and the category includes breeds who are the canine equivalent of the cheetah -- long of leg and body, and built to run fast. The best-known of these breeds is arguably the greyhound, but there are others, such as the Irish wolfhound, Afghan hound, borzoi, whippet and saluki. The 20-20 Hound Site Web page (http://log.on.ca/canine/2020houndsight/index.html) celebrates these elegant dogs, and provides information on the breeds and on the sports in which they compete.
Don't look here for information on upcoming competitions, as the calendar page has not been updated for 2001. And in the breeds area, you'll find some holes in the information offered. But you'll still find plenty of value, including breed profiles, articles on coursing, and plenty of gorgeous pictures of sight hounds at full speed.
Iguanas should be fed plant matter only, a mixture of vegetation that's high in calcium but low in phosphorus and fat. Choices include mustard, collard and turnip greens, as well as yams, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, alfalfa hay (or pellets) and squash. Dog and cat food is a no-no.
Chop fresh or frozen vegetables into a size that can be easily handled by the pet. Mix it and then store it in the refrigerator or an airtight container. Offer small amounts twice a day, and sprinkle the food with a vitamin supplement, available at a good pet store.
An outstanding book for anyone with an iggie is "Iguanas for Dummies" by Melissa Kaplan ($19.99, Hungry Minds Inc.). I've known Melissa for years, and I've always relied on her for my iguana information. She's also behind the best reptilian Internet site around, www.anapsid.org.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Do you know whether a dog's mouth is generally cleaner than a human's? I have heard it said that a dog will lick a sore and that will help heal it. And some people say that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. Are these old wives' tales? -- J.F., via e-mail
A. I brush my teeth two or three times a day and visit the dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning. My oldest dog, Andy, gets his teeth brushed a couple of times a week (if he and I are in the mood for it) and has his teeth cleaned annually. My younger retrievers have never had their teeth brushed or cleaned, although they do have them examined annually by our veterinarian. (Small dogs like my Andy, a Sheltie, are more prone to tartar buildup and usually need more dental care than do larger ones.)
All of my dogs (and most dogs I know) cannot pass up any opportunity to munch on the solid contents of cat boxes, or eat any other kind of poop, rotting food or other disgusting item they find on walks.
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't put any money on the superior cleanliness of the canine mouth. And I wouldn't allow the tongue of my dog near an open cut. Yuck!
Q: I have a cat who had a litter recently. Three are black and white (as she is), one is a calico female, and the other is a calico male. Is this a kitten I should give away? I know male calicoes are rare, and most are sterile. But with the rarity, should he go to someone who breeds cats? -- M.C., via e-mail
A: Like all of your kittens, he should be placed into a loving home and be neutered. (Make sure the momma is spayed, too, so she won't be contributing further to the pet overpopulation problem.) Male calicoes and the genetically similar tortoiseshells are indeed rare -- about one in every 3,000 of these cats is male -- but have no value to a breeder.
You can't breed a male calico and get more male calicoes for a couple of reasons. First, you're right in your understanding that male calicoes and torties are often sterile. Second, they're not "normal" males but are genetic oddities whose uniqueness cannot be passed along.
Male calicoes and torties are what's called "Klinefelter" males, and have both the Y and X chromosomes of normal males, plus a bonus -- an extra X. The two X chromosomes are what allow the calico or tortie pattern to be present, while the XY combination is what allows these cats to have male attributes.
The person you place the kitten with will have a wonderful companion and a bit of a conversation piece, but nothing beyond that.
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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