The people who lived in my home before I did were more into children than pets, and for months after I moved in, I got lots of catalogs for kid stuff. Most of them were for toys, clothes or furniture, and I tossed them into the recycling bin with hardly a glance.
But the catalog with baby-proofing items really caught my eye. I didn't know so many clever gizmos had been invented to keep children from opening cupboards, putting their fingers in power outlets or bumping their heads on coffee tables. You just can't be too careful, I suppose.
The same is true for cats, of course. Over the years I've been saddened by letters and e-mails from readers whose cats have died in household accidents that were largely preventable, if only the people had known of the risks beforehand.
In the interest of making your home safe for your cat, here's a list of some household dangers you need to beware:
-- Clothes dryers. Cats are heat-seekers, going where the warmth is, whether it's a patch of sun, your lap or a pile of clothing in a dryer. It's so easy not to notice a napping cat when you throw in a couple more items, close the door and turn on the appliance. I personally know three people who have lost cats this way, along with dozens of readers. Don't take a chance: Always check the dryer before turning it on, and always keep the dryer door shut when you're not loading.
-- Medications. Never, ever give even the most seemingly mild medication to your cat -- or any pet -- without checking with your veterinarian first. The biggest danger? Tylenol. It's fine for your headache, but likely lethal for your cat.
Even if you should get lucky and give your cat something that's not potentially lethal, you might be mistaken as to what's ailing your pet. Veterinarians have spent many years in school to learn about cats, what ails them and what to do about it. If your cat is sick, see your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
-- Insecticides. Cats are very sensitive to flea-control and other household insecticides. Never use a flea-control product on a cat unless it specifically says on the label that it's safe for a cat. Products meant solely for use on dogs can kill cats. Best bet? Check with your veterinarian.
-- String. Some cats like to play with string, yarn, thread, ribbon and other similar items. In supervised play, string and string toys are fine. The problem is that when cats are left unsupervised with string or yarn, they'll sometimes eat the material, causing internal problems that may require surgery and can sometimes cause death.
Be sure to keep string, yarn and ribbons out of your cat's reach. Put away your knitting and sewing projects when you're not working on them. And be sure to properly discard the strings from roasts to ensure your cat won't be given the opportunity to ingest the meat-juice-saturated string.
-- Houseplants. Cats love to chew on houseplants, which means it's essential to keep only those plants that won't poison your pet. You can find a list of dangerous plants in many cat-care books (including my own "Cats for Dummies"), or check out the list on the Cat Fanciers' Association Web site (www.cfainc.org/articles/plants.html).
The outside world, of course, contains many more dangers, from cars to cat-hating neighbors to coyotes. The only protection against these, of course, is to keep your cat inside.
But inside your own home, a little knowledge and a few simple precautions will be more than enough to keep even the most star-crossed cat out of trouble.
I've received a handful of frantic requests lately for the formula that gets rid of skunk odor on a pet, so I guess it's time for a repeat. Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (available from most drugstores), 1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate for you science types) and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Rinse thoroughly with tap water. This works like you can't believe!
Whenever I mention this solution, I also like to mention the person who discovered it -- according to an article a few years back in the Chicago Tribune. Chemist Paul Krebaum didn't make any money off his discovery, but anyone who has ever used this formula on a skunked pet will agree that he's certainly owed our thanks.
PETS ON THE WEB
Before most people even heard of the Internet, before shady marketers discovered e-mail, before everyone and her brother put up a Web page ... there was the Dog Owners Guide (www.canismajor.com/dog). This online magazine has been growing an impressive collection of articles since 1990, offering information on every imaginable topic pertaining to dogs, from choosing and training to showing and feeding. The folks running the site not only know dogs but also love them, and want to share their knowledge to help others make the most of their relationships with their four-legged companions. Sign in, surf around -- you'll be glad you did!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We've done a lot of research into the kind of dog we want, and we've settled on a breed we love and think will work for us.
We went to a couple of shows and found what seems to be a wonderful breeder who has a litter available now. The fly in the ointment is that she wants us to sign a contract that she will own half the puppy we want, and that locks us into a future for the dog that involves showing her and, possibly, breeding her.
She says it's not a big deal, really, since she will doing the showing for us and will sell the puppies. Maybe it's not a big deal for her, but it sounds like a lot of work to us.
My husband says we should just take the puppy and get her spayed, and that the breeder won't be able to do anything about it. But I don't want to get sued over a dog. What do you recommend? -- R.U., via e-mail
A: Such "co-ownership" contracts are common in the dog-show world, and often are the only way for newbies to the sport to acquire the show-quality dogs they need to compete. When co-ownerships work, they work well, because these arrangements set up a mentoring relationship between a successful, established breeder and someone who needs to learn the ropes.
The problem is that there aren't enough "show homes" available, and breeders aren't anxious to see potentially winning dogs taken out of competition and the gene pool. That's why some breeders will sometimes offer "show-quality" dogs to homes such as yours, under the conditions you describe. I know of such cases where these arrangements have worked out, but I don't see that happening here, because you're not interested in owning a show dog, period.
If the breeder insists on putting restrictions on the sale of the puppy you want, you'll have to pass on her. Perhaps there's another pup in the same litter who's not show-quality that can be had without a showing agreement, or perhaps the breeder knows of another breeder with puppies whose ownership won't be restricted in this way.
Whatever you do, don't agree to do something you don't intend to do just to get the puppy. Aside from your concerns over being sued down the line -- and breeders have indeed gone to court to enforce co-ownership contracts -- it's flat-out wrong to lie about your intentions.
Q: Do you have any advice for keeping my cat off my shelves? She has broken a couple of fragile items by knocking them off. -- W.P., via e-mail
A: Cats are agile enough to go where they want, and we mere humans aren't going to change their behavior. Instead, we need to change our behavior and move those fragile items out of harm's way.
Put your most valuable or sentimental breakables in glass-fronted cabinets -- thereby denying access to your clumsy cat. If you have a large collection of fragile items, you might move them all into a single room and keep the door to that room shut.
Sturdier or less valuable items can be secured to the shelves. Double-sided tape will work for some pieces, while Velcro will do for others. You should be able to locate these materials easily in craft or home-supply stores.
You can also try a product called Quake Hold, a putty that seals objects to their display surface. If you can't find it locally, you can easily buy it from any number of Web-based merchants.
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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