Summer is the time of year when some families pack it in, hustling to clear out of the old place and settle into the new one before the school year begins.
But moving is tough on families, pets included. Animals always know when something's amiss, even if they can't understand exactly what's changing, or why.
The key to moving pets is to keep them secure before and during the move, and settle them safely and quickly into a routine after. Start by ordering ID tags with the new address and phone number, so you'll have the tags securely attached to your pets' collars when moving day arrives. If you don't have a phone at your new residence yet, use a cell phone number, but don't let your pets go without ID, even for a minute.
Cats are a particular worry at moving time because they form a bond not only with the people in a home, but also with the home itself. Because of their mobility, it can be hard to keep them around the new home long enough for them to realize that this is where the people they love will now stay.
The family dog is a bit easier to deal with: Put his leash on and drive him to his new address. Show him his new, warm home and the securely fenced back yard. Unless the dog is a high jumper of Olympic caliber, he'll stay put while he adjusts.
Not so with free-roaming cats. The cases of cats returning to their previous homes are common for people who move short distances, and the instances of cats disappearing forever are just as common for families moving a great distance.
Confinement is essential when moving cats; it keeps them safe while they become used to their new territory and make it their own. Bring your cat inside, if he's not already an indoor cat, before the movers arrive. Set him up in a "safe room" -- a spare bathroom or bedroom is ideal -- and leave him be. Provide him with food and water, his bed, a scratching post, litter box and a couple of favorite toys while the packing and moving is under way.
The cat's ride to the new home is best undertaken in a carrier, especially for the animal who rarely sees the inside of a car. (If you don't have a carrier, buy one; they're inexpensive and keep your cat safe when he's on the go.)
At the new home, work the "leaving home" procedure in reverse: Put the cat into a "safe room" for a few days -- until the movers are gone, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled -- and then allow him to explore inside the house on his own terms after things calm down a bit.
Quickly re-establish a routine; pick a time and a place for feeding, and stick to it for all pets.
If you've been thinking about converting your free-roaming cat to a house dweller for his health and safety, moving to a new home is the perfect time to accomplish this. In your old home, you'd be constantly listening to your cat demanding to be let out into the rest of his territory. In a new home, he hasn't established any territory of his own yet, and you can make the new home his only turf by keeping him inside from day one.
If you don't want to convert him, keep him inside for a couple of weeks, until he seems relaxed. You can introduce your cat to the new yard by accompanying him on short tours with a harness and a leash, but in the end, you'll have to take your chances, open the door and hope for the best. Sound risky? It is! A lot of people lose free-roaming cats when they move, which is why I can't help but recommend starting an indoor life for your outdoor cat at moving time.
PETS ON THE WEB
Nopuppymills.com looks at the problems with mass-production puppy breeders. It includes articles on why many animal experts believe you should not support this industry, and how to avoid buying from puppy brokers. If you've ever found yourself humming "How Much Is That Puppy in the Window?" you need to view this site to find out just how high the cost truly is, to both animals and consumers.
If you're going to be giving in to your child's begging for a dog this summer, be sure that the responsibilities of caring for the animal aren't forgotten once the new-pet excitement wears off. Help your child find time for the humdrum (but essential) duties of pet care, from feeding and grooming to picking up the yard.
Try also to encourage exercise as part of the regular routine, for both the dog's sake and your child's. A walk or a game of fetch is good for both child and pet -- especially since studies show that both children and pets are far too sedentary, with obesity a growing problem for both.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Would you let your readers know of the reality of having rats as pets? Our daughter was bitten by an apparently healthy pet rat and ended up in the hospital for three days. She contracted a disease known as "rat-bite fever." I learned quite a bit about this after the fact, including that those who get the illness can die from it.
Our daughter suffered greatly, and the bills for several doctors, medications, tests and the hospital were in excess of $9,000.
Since the rat bite five years ago, we have rescued a boxer and a pug mix, so I don't think we are squeamish about pets and kids. Our dog even sleeps in the same bed as our daughter. But knowing what I have learned about rats, I now think that they are stupid pets. I wish I could do more to spread the word. -- L.B., via e-mail
A: Although I am very sorry for what happened to your daughter, the truth is that more children are badly hurt every year riding skateboards or bicycles, playing soccer or even riding in the family car than will contract rat-bite fever from a pet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the disease is rare in the United States.
In my 20 years of writing about pets, yours is the first time I've heard from a reader about a rat bite, while in the same period of time I've received countless letters and e-mails about dog bites as well as cat bites and scratches. That doesn't minimize the harm done to your daughter, but it does keep the risk in perspective for other parents. Rats can be such affectionate and entertaining pets for children that I'd hate to have parents avoid them because of the small chance of a bite proving to be a big problem.
The truth is that all pets carry some degree of risk to humans. The benefits of having pets in our children's lives generally outweigh the risk of injury or disease, especially if we minimize those risks by choosing, socializing and caring for pets properly. Accidents do happen, of course, but many can be prevented with proper precautions.
Again, I am very sorry for what happened to your daughter, and I appreciate you bringing this little-known problem to my attention.
Q: Our canary is in a continuous state of being "puffed up," and he doesn't seem to be chirping at all. I realize he is probably sick, but I am at a loss as to what to do about it. Would you please let me know what it could be and what I can do? -- M.S., via e-mail
A: When we take pets into our homes, we assume responsibility for their well-being, and that responsibility includes taking them to a veterinarian when they may be ill.
When pet birds appear to be sick, they are often very sick indeed. That's because as prey animals, birds in the wild do everything they can to keep a healthy appearance. Any creature toward the bottom of the food chain who acts sick will attract the attention of a predator all too eager to find an easy meal.
Changes in appearance, behavior or eating habits can be symptoms of illness in birds, and should be checked out by a veterinarian, preferably one with experience and an interest in avian medicine. When it comes to a pet's health, there's no substitute for proper diagnosis and treatment by a good veterinarian.
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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