In a pet's perfect world, there would be no holidays.
That's because animals thrive on routine. They'd be perfectly happy with the same loving people feeding them the same food, sharing the same daily walks or other physical activities, all in a territory that doesn't change much. Given their choice, most pets would happily do without a houseful of strangers on Thanksgiving or strangely dressed children coming to the door on Halloween.
But of all the celebrations we humans adore, the Fourth of July is the worst for pets because of fireworks. For some pets, this noisy holiday is simply terrifying. For others, it can turn deadly, as they are driven by fear to run away, and end up either killed by cars or lost and never found again. While accidents do happen, you can do a lot to prevent them and make the holiday easier on both you and your pets.
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. 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 strays in any shelter will tell you that the benefit of a collar and tag far outweighs any risks. Shelter workers will tell you they never see cats die from a snagged collar, but they are on hand when many strays breathe their last because they didn't have any way to be reunited with their owners and no one else wanted them.
It's a good idea to keep current, clear pictures of your pets on hand in case they do slip away -- you'll need them for fliers. If you lose your pet, put fliers everywhere you can, and place a lost ad in the paper right away. Don't waste precious time hoping your pet will wander home. Scan the neighborhood, watch "found" ads, and check the shelters and emergency clinics every other day in person.
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 need to head to an emergency clinic after-hours that you know the phone number and how to get there.
Finally, if you've got a pet for whom the noise is terrifying, talk to your veterinarian before the holiday about tranquilizers you can administer at home to take the edge off the worst of the fear for your pet. For the pet who gets a little nervous but not unhinged by fireworks, check for a product called Rescue Remedy at your health-food store. Many dog fanciers swear by this human preparation to calm their pets as well.
While there's nothing that will dampen the enthusiastic way we celebrate the birth of our nation, preparing for the noise beforehand will also keep our pets free from the worst of the fear and danger this noisy day brings to animals.
PETS ON THE WEB
Summer is vacation time, and for many of us, that means taking our pets along. Finding lodging along the way has been made easier with the help of a pair of Web sites meant to make traveling with pets a pleasure. PetsWelcome.com offers listings of pet-friendly places, along with a nifty tool for planning your vacation: Enter your starting point and destination, and PetsWelcome.com will map out your route and provide you with pet-friendly lodging along the way.
TravelDog.com takes a different approach, charging a fee of $14.95 per year to access some of the same listings that can be found in books and elsewhere on the Web. The benefits of membership? Discounts from 10 percent to 40 percent for lodging and other pet-friendly goods and services that can pay for membership on just one trip. Both sites offer bulletin boards for pet lovers to share travel tips, lodging reviews, helpful articles, product reviews and more.
Many of the birds we keep as pets are of species most comfortable in places that we would find intolerable: the steamy, hot rainforests of Central and South America. The dry air of human homes is thought to be a contributing factor to feather-picking, a frustrating syndrome that can drive birds to pluck themselves bald.
You don't have to turn your house into a sauna to bring some moisture into your pet's life. Many birds enjoy being dampened by water from a spray bottle, or being offered the chance to take a bath in a shallow dish of clean water. Some parrot lovers take their birds right into the shower with them. How often should birds get a drenching? There are no firm guidelines, but daily would be fine with many birds.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We've recently adopted a 2-year-old Lab-chow mix from our local shelter. There have been a couple of adjustment problems, but we're working them out. We do have one problem we need advice on: his name. When we got him, his name was "Coors." We don't want a dog named after a beer. How hard is it to change it? -- N.M., via e-mail
A: Easy. Just stop calling him "Coors," and start using the name you want to use. Your new pet will pick it up soon enough.
Your question is a timely one in my household. I went through at least a half-dozen names for my new puppy before he arrived, and another two or three after he joined us before settling on the name "Danny," which I used for the better part of the week. Problem was, "Danny" was too close to "Benny," the nickname of my oldest dog, the retriever Benjamin. The situation was confusing to everyone, so I had to find another name. This took another few days, during which I tried on three new names on the poor puppy before settling on "Chase." He's already responding to his name and, even more important, Benjamin isn't.
It isn't just puppies who can be so flexible on the subject of names. When Benjamin arrived in my home, he was nearly 2 years old and was named "Miles." I didn't think it fit him, so I changed it. Within a week, he was responding to Benjamin, Ben, Bennie and Big Doofus. I didn't hesitate to change his name because I have had the experience over the years of fostering, naming and finding new homes for many strays, all of whom likely had names before I found them, none of which I would have any way of knowing.
A final note: Your dog may not even realize his name is "Coors." Shelters know a name makes it easier for a pet to click with a prospective owner, which is why many humane groups make sure every pet gets a name before being put up for adoption, even if the animal came through the doors as an unnamed stray.
Q: I heard from a friend that there's a way to clean dog's teeth without anesthesia. It is much cheaper and easier on the dog. Are you aware of this, and is it a good idea? -- G.L., via e-mail
A: Some groomers will scrape a dog's teeth, and many people who show dogs do the same. Without anesthesia, the job isn't likely to be as thorough, and the pet is more likely to be injured because few animals will sit still for this procedure.
To protect your pet's teeth and save money, arrange for your dog to have a teeth-cleaning under anesthesia by your veterinarian, and then start brushing your pet's teeth on as close to a daily basis as possible, using a toothpaste made for pets. (Because pets don't spit and rinse, they need a toothpaste that can be swallowed and is flavored more to their liking.)
By brushing your pet's teeth regularly, you'll maintain the benefits of a veterinary visit, and increase the time between complete cleanings under anesthesia, thereby saving money without compromising your pet's health.
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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