Anyone who has yet to be convinced that Americans are crazy about their pets would see things differently after a couple of hours at Global Pet Expo.
The pet-industry trade show, held last month in Orlando, Fla., attracted vendors from massive corporations to individual inventors, all working to catch the eyes of buyers looking to put the hottest new products in their stores. The convention center floor was packed with more than 2,000 booths and marked the launch of some 600 new pet products.
Plenty of traditional pet products where on display as well, although many of these have had makeovers. It's amazing the variety possible in product as simple in concept as a dog leash or a cat bed. But if there is a way to update such gear, it was shown off here. The most popular modifications to leashes, collars and dog toys were those that made them light up or flicker, and these were so common as to be ho-hum by the time one walked the length of the display hall.
Among the show trends:
-- Togs for small dogs. Pet-supply manufacturers are clearly hoping the craze for small dogs has staying power, judging by the number of booths showing clothing, hats, jewelry or other accessories for dogs who themselves seem at times to have been purchased as fashion statements.
Everything from wedding apparel (white dresses for first-time doggy brides, of course, and tuxedos for grooms) to pink leather biker jackets and sports-team jumpers was on display. Hats, too, including black baseball-style hats with "FBI" on them and traditional white sailor hats. Rhinestone jewelry for little dogs? Why not? After all, how fashionable could a plain old ID tag be?
And what good is a well-dressed dog who never goes anywhere? The simple pet carrier has gone up-market, too, with several manufacturers offering a wide range of styles, colors and patterns, and others pushing dog strollers as nice as any human baby could want.
-- Litter boxes and accessories. We want the cat to use the litter box, we don't want to see it or smell it, and we want it to clean itself. That seems to be the message from the inventors and companies trying to improve on the time-tested basic litter box.
Two manufacturers offered their versions of self-cleaning electronic litter boxes, while other companies looked for buyers of litter box hiding spots. Some of the latter were disguised as cabinets, while the most clever hid the box in the bottom of a planter, complete with plant on top.
Getting rid of what gets scooped was another source of innovation, with companies offering products in which clumps of dirtied litter could be dropped in and sealed for later disposal. No mess, no smell.
-- Gear for small pets. A cramped cage in a corner of a children's bedroom or a hutch in the back yard used to be about the best many small pets could expect, but things are changing. The popularity of animals such as ferrets and rabbits as indoor pets for adults was obvious in displays of bigger, multilevel cages and racks of toys designed specifically to keep these animals from being bored.
-- Brand names. Pets may not be interested in brand names, but it's clear the sellers of pet products are hoping pet lovers are. One of the biggest displays at the show was Jeep's, promoting a line of rugged-looking gear for dogs. Other companies were offering items with brand names such as Harley-Davidson, the American Kennel Club, Barbie and even cartoon characters such as Scooby-Doo.
All these products will be showing up in pet-supply stores and catalogs before long, and everyone at Global Pet Expo is betting on each item being a hit with consumers.
Only time will tell.
Parrots don't take to pills
Q: This may seem like a stupid question, but I'll ask it anyway. How does one "pill" a parrot? -- F.W., via e-mail
A: You don't "pill" a parrot. Here's a rundown of the options when it comes to medicating a bird:
-- Adding water-soluble medications to drinking water. Adding medication to water is easiest, but it has its drawbacks. There's little control over dosage because you can't count on a bird to drink any set amount of water. Some species drink little water at all, and other birds may not feel up to drinking when they're ill.
-- Offering medicated feeds. This has the same pros and cons as medicated water. It's easy to offer medicated feed, but there's no way of making sure any of it gets inside the bird. And some medicated feeds apparently taste awful, so even if a bird feels like eating, he may not touch food with medicine in it.
-- Using a syringe or eyedropper. Accuracy of dosage is a benefit of giving medication orally -- assuming it's possible to get the stuff in him instead of dribbling it everywhere but down his throat. The appropriate amount can go in an eyedropper or a syringe with the needle removed, and can be given by sliding the tip into the side of your bird's mouth.
The downside: A bird isn't likely to sit still for this procedure, and he'll have to be restrained by being wrapped in a towel. Once restrained, a bird who was hand-fed as a baby will usually go along -- the sight of a plastic tip nearing his mouth will usually get him to open up.
-- Giving an injection. High marks for accuracy, and once the owner is used to injecting the bird, high marks for ease as well. As with oral medications, though, a bird will likely need to be restrained with a towel to get his medication. Some people get really good at injecting their bird, even after initial reluctance.
When a bird needs medication, either short-term or for life, it's essential that the bird's caregiver and the veterinarian are on the same page when it comes to how to administer medication. The person who'll be giving the medication needs to ask lots of questions, to watch while the veterinarian demonstrates, to practice while at the clinic, and to speak up if there's a question or problem.
One final thing to remember about medications: Keep on giving them even if a bird seems to feel better. Or at least, don't stop early unless your veterinarian says it's OK.
Q: How much grit does my cockatiel need? Should I just let her have all she wants? -- P.R., via e-mail
A: Some pet birds, such as finches and canaries, can make use of an occasional small amount of grit, but most budgies, cockatiels and other parrots don't need grit at all.
It's still commonly believed that grit helps in the grinding organ of the gizzard, assisting in the breakdown of foods. But birds do fine without grit, and the material has been shown to remove vitamins A, K and B2 from the digestive system.
A tiny -- as in a couple of grains of grit every couple of months -- is fine for finches and canaries, keeping in mind that no pet bird needs to have access to all the grit he or she wants.
For parrots large and small, though, skip grit entirely. Overconsumption of grit can lead to life-threatening problems in pet parrots, especially young birds and smaller species, such as budgies or cockatiels.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
No meat for iguanas
An iguana may look like a carnivorous dinosaur, but when it comes to diet, the reptiles could not be more different.
Iguanas should be fed plant matter only, a mixture of vegetation that's high in calcium but low in phosphorus and fat. Choices include mustard, collard and turnip greens, as well as yams, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, alfalfa hay and squash.
Chop the vegetables into a size that can be easily handled by the pet -- smaller pieces for smaller iggies -- and mix and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Offer small amounts twice a day and sprinkle the food with a calcium supplement, available at a pet store. This diet can be supplemented by commercial foods.
And don't forget water! Iguanas should always have water available not only for drinking but also for getting wet. A ceramic dish in the enclosure is a must, and spraying mist on the pet regularly is also a good idea.
Bite-wound abscesses require prompt attention
Spring means breeding season for free-roaming cats, which also means cat fights -- and bite-wound abscesses. Prompt veterinary attention is called for with these nasty infections.
The veterinarian will need to lance an abscess that has not ruptured and flush the area clean of debris. Depending on the size of the abscess and the temperament of the cat, sedation may need to be part of this procedure.
An abscess that has been left untreated may have enough dead tissue to require a more involved procedure under anesthesia. The surgery may require cutting away the dead tissue, inserting a drain and stitching up the wound.
At-home care following the stay at the veterinarian's may involve flushing the wound and will almost certainly require giving your cat antibiotics. Warm compresses applied for five to 10 minutes twice a day may also be recommended to help speed up the healing process. Follow your veterinarian's advice.
The best way to prevent your cat from getting a bite-wound abscess is to neuter him and keep him as an indoor pet.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Chihuahua a little dog with a big attitude
The first thing you'll notice about the Chihuahua is that he's small. The second thing you'll notice is that he has absolutely no idea about the first thing.
Described as everything from "saucy" to "courageous," the Chihuahua is one of the 10 most popular dogs in America, and the second most popular toy dog.
The breed originated in Mexico, stands only 6 to 9 inches at the shoulder and weighs in at under 6 pounds -- sometimes as little as 1 pound. Despite their confident temperament, their tiny size makes them inappropriate for homes with boisterous children or playful larger dogs.
They are, however, perfect lap dogs and devoted companions, and make excellent apartment dwellers. They can easily be trained to use a litter box or small patio to relieve themselves. They come in two coat lengths, short and long. The longhaired Chihuahua does require regular brushing to prevent mats, but by and large they are easy to groom and care for.
Chihuahuas are notoriously jealous and will want all your love and attention, all the time. While they are active and entertaining dogs, they do not require large amounts of exercise. Dainty and delicate, they will need to wear a coat when weather is cold and cannot live outdoors under any circumstances.
There are a few things to be aware of when seeking a Chihuahua. Since a badly bred or unsocialized Chihuahua can be aggressive or impossible to housetrain, be sure you get your Chihuahua from an ethical breeder who is a member of the Chihuahua Club of America, or from a reputable Chihuahua rescue organization.
Chihuahuas are mostly healthy dogs, but the smallest ones tend to have more health issues than the larger dogs, and any Chihuahua can have heart, knee, eye, dental or other breed-related health problems. -- Christie Keith, www.pethobbyist.com
PETS ON THE WEB
Miniature horses roam the Internet
Most people don't consider a horse to fit into the category of "pet." The exception might be the miniature horse, some of which aren't that much bigger than a large dog.
Originally developed to work in mines and other tight confines, miniature horses can be used to pull carts and serve as backpacking companions. Any even if you don't intend to do anything more than just let them hang out on your property, they can be charming to have around.
The American Miniature Horse Association's Web site (www.amha.com) offers information on these distinctive horses, as does the Web site of the Small Horse Press (www.smallhorse.com). The AMHA site shows the versatility of these little guys, while the Small Horse Press site offers hundreds of links to miniature horse associations and breeders.
For folks with room and zoning approval, a miniature horse can be a wonderful pet indeed.
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 email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600