What do an ironing board, clingy plastic food wrap and a condom have in common? In an emergency medical situation, all can be pressed into service to help save the life of your pet.
Surprising, innovative and definitely useful, such information makes a new book on first aid for dogs and cats an essential part of every pet lover's reference library. When an animal is sick or injured at home, chances are you won't have instant access to either a veterinarian or to professional-grade medical supplies. But you will be able to lay your hands on a book that tells you in easy-to-understand terms what to do right now and how, so you can buy your pet some time when it counts most.
This was exactly what pet expert Amy Shojai was hoping for when she came up with the idea for her latest book, "The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats" (Rodale, $29.95).
"When working on my previous books I had been researching first aid," said Shojai, the Sherman, Texas- based writer of more than a dozen books on pets. "I was really struck by the fact that most were written by veterinarians who assumed that the pet owner who was reading the book had a chest full of veterinary medical supplies right there."
Shojai even noticed one book that made reference to a stretcher, something even the most well-prepared pet owner wouldn't have on hand. "So I wondered: What do you do when you don't have professional equipment? And it's a no-brainer: You use what's available."
Like using an ironing board for a stretcher. Or a cookie sheet, if the injured animal is a cat or small dog. Plastic food wrap can be used to hold wounds together until the animal can be seen by a veterinarian. And a condom? Shojai says it's ideal for holding a bandage on the paw of a cat or small dog.
Before she started writing about pets, Shojai worked as a veterinary technician. She saw firsthand how many times a pet lover's response to an animal's injury or illness made the difference in determining if the animal later lived or died. In "The First Aid Companion" she draws on her hands-on experiences as well as on the expertise of more than 80 veterinarians to give pet lovers the information they need, at exactly the time they need it most.
More than 150 common medical problems are covered in the book, along with information on how to prevent life-threatening emergencies. Each alphabetically listed entry, from "abdominal wounds" to "worms," offers an immediate assessment of the situation: whether the animal needs to see a veterinarian immediately, relatively quickly, or if the problem can be remedied at home. A "do this now" guide explains what the pet lover's immediate response should be. The layout of the book also helps. It's designed so that each entry covers facing pages, so the book can be opened on a table to leave the pet lover's hands free to help the injured or sick animal. The entries even offer advice on follow-up care after the pet has been treated by a veterinarian.
Shojai take pains to stress that no first-aid book should take the place of a veterinarian's care. Indeed, she makes it clear on every page that her book is meant to complement the efforts of professionals.
"Veterinarians don't want to be the last line of defense," says Shojai. "They want to be the first line, and they want to give a pet a fighting chance. First aid is just that: (BEGIN ITALS)first(END ITALS) aid. It does not replace a veterinarian's care."
"The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats" is the first such book I've seen that makes a pet owner a full member of the team when it comes to saving the life of a pet. Along with the number of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic, this book is something every pet lover should keep on hand, just in case.
PETS ON THE WEB
Skunks as pets? They're illegal in most places, strictly regulated in most others and controversial everywhere else. But don't expect to find anything but positive information on the Skunks as Pets Web site (www.skunksaspets.com). The site is definitely pro-skunk.
If you're interested in these animals as pets, please note that you don't just go out and find a wild baby skunk -- pet versions come from breeders and can be surgically altered by a veterinarian so they cannot spray. And they don't just come in black-and-white stripes, but in many different varieties of patterns and markings. The Skunks as Pets site explains it all (although sometimes in type that's a strain on the eyes and needs to be larger).
"Lite" varieties of dog food reduce calories per serving by adding fiber to the formula, including such material as peanut hulls and beet pulp. The idea is to make the animal feel full on fewer calories, and in so doing save you from the guilt you'll feel when your pet looks up from his bowl with a forlorn "Is that all I get?" look.
While the strategy likely won't work for cats, you can create your own lower-calorie, higher-fiber meals for your overweight dog by replacing one-third of the daily ration of his everyday food with green beans. Buy them frozen in large bags to reduce costs, and store them thawed in your refrigerator.
Why won't a cat go for green beans? Because while dogs are scavengers, with very broad tolerances when it comes to food, cats are true carnivores. Meat is what cats prefer, and green beans won't tempt the palates of the vast majority of them.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Thank you so much for your great article on dog parks. I help put together dog parks, helping manage them in Santa Rosa, Calif., and I know that common sense is the one thing so many people fail to use. I was especially happy that you recommended removing choke collars. We also recommend taking prong collars off, as the prongs can get stuck in another dog's collar.
The only comment you made that may be a problem is regarding muzzling. We have found that dogs need to be let off the leash prior to entering the park because being restrained when other dogs approach triggers a defensive mechanism in some animals. The same would go for a muzzle. Being unable to protect himself, the dog will feel threatened and at the mercy of all the others, which he will be.
All dogs need to be unrestrained and neutral in a confined area. It helps keep everyone safe. -- Sandi Brown, via e-mail
A: The benefits of dog parks are twofold: exercise and socialization. The use of a box muzzle allows a dog who shouldn't otherwise be in a dog park, because of proven aggressive tendencies, to get the exercise he needs.
Regular sessions of heart-thumping exercise have been shown to be an essential element in resolving behavior problems. A tired dog is more likely to be a good dog and is certainly a happy dog.
I don't believe that other dogs and people should be put at risk so a dog who is known to bite can run free. For those dogs, a comfortable box muzzle is a compromise that allows the benefits of off-leash exercise to extend to all in safety.
Of course, I recommend that anyone with a dog whose aggressiveness is a concern should find a behaviorist who can help with the long-term management of the problem.
Q: After constantly reading that "Beware of Dog" signs are a good home-security device, I was curious as to what your take was on this topic. My main concern is that by using the signs you give the impression that you have a vicious dog, and that people will act improperly toward your dog. -- R.L., via e-mail
A: I don't recommend "Beware of Dog" signs because in these lawsuit-happy times such a posting suggests that you had prior knowledge that your dog could hurt someone. And that could set you up for real trouble. After all, even a friendly dog could cause injury with an exuberant greeting. In my family we still tell the story of when our boxer jumped up to kiss my grandmother. When he landed, he broke her toe. (She didn't sue.)
Instead of "Beware of Dog," post something that makes it clear there are dogs about (and so gives would-be burglars a "stay clear" message) but doesn't offer any statement on the temperament of the pets in question. "Dog(s) in Yard" should fit the bill adequately, and I have on occasion seen these available in hardware stores.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600