Looking for solid proof that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Spend the Fourth of July at an emergency veterinary clinic.
I did exactly that a few years back, and it was an eye-opener. The sad stream of animals hit by cars, cut by jumping through windows and knocked down by heat made an impression that I've never forgotten. Almost every animal I saw wouldn't have needed to be there if someone had been just a little more careful.
This year, the Fourth falls on a Friday, which means many people will be making a three-day celebration of it -- and that the folks in the emergency veterinary clinics are in for a very long, hard weekend.
It doesn't take much to help ensure that your pet won't be one of those in need of medical assistance. A few common-sense precautions will go a long way toward making the holiday safer for your pet.
First, make sure your pets are secure when the noise begins, since scared pets are more likely to bolt and be hit by cars or lost forever. Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards or enticing gaps at the baseline that a panicked pet could open up with a little digging? Fix them all. Better still, bring all your pets inside 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 serve as tickets home for lost pets; for extra insurance, add a microchip and a lost pet service like 1-800-Help4Pets (www.help4pets.com), which will issue an authorization for your pet's emergency care or boarding if you cannot be found. Some people worry about the safety of collars on their cats, but one look at all the healthy, well-fed, obviously lost pets in any shelter -- many of whom will never find their way home -- will tell you that the benefits of a collar and tag far outweigh the risks.
Heat is a summer problem that seems to be worse on the Fourth of July, when many people take their dogs along to outdoor events. Don't let having a good time distract you from keeping an eye on your dog. Be sure he isn't exercising too much in the heat, that he's staying in the shade as much as possible and that he's getting lots of water. And of course, your dog should never be left in a car, even with the windows cracked, on any warm day -- even a few minutes could be deadly.
While you're planning for prevention, figure out where you'd go for a veterinary emergency, just in case. 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 your veterinarian refers after-hours care to an emergency clinic, 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 in advance about tranquilizers you can administer at home to take the edge off the worst of it for your pet. Some pet lovers also report good results from the homeopathic preparation Rescue Remedy, which should be available at any health-food store.
Frantic panting and glassy eyes are signs of an overheated dog who needs help -- fast. While some sources recommend using ice to cool down a dog, emergency-care veterinarians say that's dangerous. Instead, apply as much cool -- not ice-cold -- water as you can to your dog's body, and get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Heat stress is not something to wait out, hoping your pet will "get better." Older or obese dogs, or short-nosed dogs such as pugs or boxers, are at the greatest risk, as are those with dark coats such as rottweilers or black Labradors.
PETS ON THE WEB
When you ask pet-loving children what they want to be when they grow up, chances are pretty good they'll say "veterinarian." Most will change their minds along the way, and others who want to pursue that career won't make it -- more than two-thirds of those applying to a college or school of veterinary medicine won't be accepted. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Web site (www.aavmc.org) provides statistical information on who gets into veterinary colleges, as well as offering advice on how students interested in becoming a veterinarian can better prepare themselves for the rigors ahead.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our adult kids will be staying with us for a while this summer, along with their two cats. We do not have cats, only our cocker spaniel, Holly. I'm not at all worried about Holly relating to the cats, because she has been around other animals a lot and had a cat "sister" for 13 years.
What I am worried about is my house and furniture. I don't want cat hair everywhere, or the cats doing their "business" on our carpet.
I read your article about getting cats used to a new environment by putting them in a room alone and visiting them regularly until they get used to being in a new place. We all agree on this. However, I know the kids will sooner, not later, want the cats to have full run of the house, and I'm not eager to allow that.
We live in a new two-story home with an unfinished basement. I would like the basement to be the cat room and the kids seem OK with that, but not long-term. Obviously, I can keep some doors closed, but there are living spaces with no doors that I do not want them in.
I really don't want this to become an issue, but I have a feeling I'm going to be the "bad guy" here. Any suggestions on how to make the "grand-kitty" visit non-controversial? -- R.D., via e-mail
A: If you're going to insist the cats stay in the basement while your adult children are demanding that they be let upstairs, you're going to have conflict, no doubt about it. How important it is for you to stick to your guns is something only you can decide.
You've offered them a reasonable compromise, a secure and comfortable place in the basement for the length of the visit. With the addition of soft bedding, a scratching post and some toys, the space can be turned into a very satisfactory space for the cats, especially considering they'll be getting lots of visitors down there if you put your foot down on the house rules.
I grew up with parents who considered a single dog to be more than enough pets -- and sometimes too many. Their last "family dog" died almost 20 years ago, and since then my parents haven't had the slightest desire to have anything furry in their home.
They like their house clean, and they like it quiet. I personally don't value those things over the pleasures of living with pets, but what I think doesn't much matter in this regard. It's their home, and they get to decide what's right for them.
Because of their preferences, when I visit my parents I leave my pets at home. I wouldn't consider being so rude as to impose my pets on people who don't want them around -- even if those people just happen to be related to me.
It's too bad your children aren't equally respectful of your wishes.
Q: At our veterinary hospital, one of the doctors has letters after his name that we haven't seen before. Most have DVM after their names, which we know to be Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. He has MRCVS after his. What does that mean? -- G.P., via e-mail
A: MRCVS stands for Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and indicates a veterinarian who was accredited -- and probably trained -- in the United Kingdom.
While most veterinarians working in Canada and the United States are DVMs, you might also bump into one who has VMD after his or her name. The letters stand for the Latin words for Veterinary Medical Doctor, and is a degree awarded by the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school. When you see VMD after a veterinarian's name, you know without asking that the person is a graduate of that university's veterinary program -- and surely proud of it!
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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