If you could do one thing that would improve not only your dog's health but also your own, you'd do it, wouldn't you?
If your answer is "yes," then it's time to start walking your dog.
A lot of dog lovers have no choice but to walk the dog. They live in apartments and have to take their dogs out two or three times a day because there's no door to open to even the smallest of back yards.
But for the rest of us, taking a dog out is something we don't have to do, so a lot of us don't. And that's a shame.
Recent studies have shown that our pets are having as much trouble with obesity as we are, and the reasons are the same: too much food and not enough exercise. Many dog breeds were developed with hard work in mind -- herding sheep, retrieving birds, pulling sleds -- but today's descendants of these hard-driving dogs spend their days getting most of their exercise waddling to the food dish.
Our dogs deserve better, and so do we. Want more convincing? Here you go:
-- Walking is good exercise for any age or type of dog. Unlike other forms of exercise where a dog could get injured or overheated (especially if unfit, aged or obese), a walking program is a low-impact alternative that can start modestly when it comes to pace and distance.
-- Walking can help take weight off you and your dog -- and keep it off. A recent study conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago showed that people who started a walking program with their dog were more likely to stick with it. Think of it as having an exercise buddy who will never bail on you and will always be happy to go along.
-- Daily exercise helps to alleviate the boredom and nervous energy behind many canine behavior problems. Veterinary behaviorists have long recommended increased exercise as part of any plan to overcome problems such as nuisance barking or destructive chewing. A tired dog is more likely to be a good dog.
-- Walking is a good way to socialize, for both humans and dogs. Dogs are a great conversation-starter, a way for even shy people to break the ice. Organizations that train service dogs learned long ago that having a dog at one's side is a way out of the isolation so many of us feel.
So what are you waiting for? Spring is the perfect time to get started, and there's no special equipment to buy or health club dues to pay. No reason to procrastinate.
Grab a leash, whistle up your dog, and hit the road. You'll both be healthier and happier for it.
Good gear for walking
Recent innovations offer alternatives to putting a choke collar on your dog. Instead of having your gasping dog drag you down the street, try either a head halter or one of the new front-snap harnesses. Both offer increased control over even strong dogs without making the animal uncomfortable.
A leash that feels comfortable in your hands is a must. So choose one made of fabric or leather (no chain leashes) in either 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch widths, and in a 6-foot length for good control. If you use a reel-type lead, don't combine it with a head halter (it's not safe), and do use a safety loop to keep the handle from popping out of your control.
For walking in anything other than broad daylight, use some sort of reflective product -- either vests for you or your dog, or a reflective leash.
Finally, be sure to carry bags for cleaning up after your dog. Many pet-supply companies sell such products, but I've always used free plastic grocery bags for the job.
No magic pill to fix urine burns on lawn
Q: My dog's urine is destroying my lawn. Last year, I tried a product I bought from a pet catalog that is for this specific problem, but it hasn't worked well enough to justify buying more of it. There must be something I can add to her food or water to prevent this problem. What's the secret? -- J.J., via e-mail
A: I used to joke with the garden editor of The Sacramento Bee newspaper that if he and I could only come up with the miracle cure for lawn burns, we could retire wealthy.
No such luck.
Over the years I've heard of all kinds of supplements to fix this problem, from tomato juice to garlic to salt to vitamin C, along with all kinds of commercial products. I haven't seen good evidence that any of them work all that well. Furthermore, some additions to your dog's food or water can increase the risk of illness for your pet, and that's never worth a greener lawn, in my opinion. I only put things in my pets' mouths that are good specifically for them and them alone.
Probably the best solution to lawn burn is to set aside a part of your yard for your dog's potty needs, and train or restrict her to use this area exclusively. Replace the lawn in this area with decomposed granite, pea gravel or other kill-proof cover that will present a nice appearance and offer easy cleanup.
If it's not possible to split off part of the yard for your dog's potty area, then this will help: After your dog squats on your lawn, take the hose and flush the area with lots and lots of water to dilute the urine to non-damaging levels. You need to do this fairly soon after your dog urinates. You cannot rely on every-other-day water from the sprinklers to help much in this regard.
Years ago, a dog-loving friend of mine with an exceptionally lovely yard came up with a solution that takes some effort but worked well for her. She kept a fresh roll of sod growing in an out-of-the-way corner of her yard, and when a spot on the lawn turned started to turn yellow, she'd cut it out and replace it with fresh sod. The maintenance was constant, but so was the green of her yard.
Q: With warmer weather finally arriving, will you remind people that snail bait is deadlier to more creatures than just snails? I hate to think of pets being poisoned. -- L.D., via e-mail
A: Like most gardeners, "hate" isn't all that strong a word to use when it comes to how I feel about snails. But I never, ever use snail bait, because it's deadly not just to snails and slugs but also to dogs, cats and birds.
Instead, I conduct "snail safaris" with a flashlight, picking up snails by the shell and putting them in a bag that I then place in the garbage bin. Another alternative to traditional snail bait is iron phosphate, which is marketed under the brand name Sluggo.
Any pet suspected of having gotten into snail bait -- symptoms include frothing at the mouth, vomiting and convulsions -- needs to see a veterinarian immediately. The animal's life depends on prompt action.
All garden pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers need to be used with extreme caution around pets. Use as little as possible and follow directions to the letter.
Better still: Avoid using such products at all around pets if there's an alternative that will get the job done.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A neater way to buy life food for reptiles
Build a better bug box, and the world will beat a path to your door.
At least, that's the hope of Gordon Vadis, a self-described "cricketeer" who has come up with a way to make the handling of live food for reptiles easier for customers and pet stores alike.
Vadis took over a family business that produced bait for fishermen, but he soon realized that unlike the bait business, providing feeder insects to pet stores wasn't seasonal. In 2000 he sold the bait business to focus solely on the pet trade with The Bug Company (www.ebugco.com).
"More than 80 percent of cricket sales are to mothers whose kids have pet reptiles," says Vadis. "And they don't want to be driving home with a plastic bag full of bugs."
To make things neater and to spare pet-store staff the time it takes to fish crickets out of a tank, Vadis came up with a self-contained biosphere box that contains healthy crickets and enough food to keep them that way for the time it takes them to get from his Minnesota bug farm to a reptile's stomach. All a customer has to do is grab a box from a display and head for the register.
Punch-out holes in the package mean no cricket-handling for the squeamish. The 25-cricket Bug Box has a suggested retail price of $2.49, the 50-cricket box for $4.49.
Proper handling keeps parrots tame
Altitude has a lot to do with attitude, at least when it comes to parrots. In the wild, dominant members of a flock choose the highest branches on which to rest, with the lower-ranking birds settling on perches below. Pet parrots who see themselves as dominant to their owners can often be retrained just by getting their height adjusted.
The rule is known among behaviorists as "your head, my heart" and requires you to keep your bird's head no higher than your heart. That means canceling shoulder rides in favor of letting your bird perch on your waist-level arm or hand. It also means removing cage-top play gyms and lowering the height of the cage itself by removing the stand on which most models rest.
When your bird no longer looks down on you physically, he won't be as likely to look down on you socially. You'll then be in a better position to train him in the basics of well-mannered behavior.
Pick plants with an eye to pet safety
The Animal Poison Control Center has come out with a list of five plants with the most potential to cause illness or death to pets. Check your plants against this list, and make sure your pets do not have access to them.
Better still, don't keep these plants in your home or yard:
-- Lilies. The APCC says lilies are at the top of the list for calls regarding plant toxicity. Pretty they may be, but lilies are highly toxic to cats. Even a small amount can damage an animal's kidneys, and some cats who eat these plants die of kidney failure.
-- Azaleas. The bright colors of azaleas are one of the signs that spring is finally here, a welcome antidote to months of gray weather. But according to the APCC, azaleas can produce vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness and central nervous system depression. Severe cases could lead to death from cardiovascular collapse.
-- Oleander. Hardy oleanders are another easy-care landscaping favorite. But oleanders contain toxic components that can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, hypothermia and potentially severe cardiac problems.
-- Sago palms. This plant may trigger vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, liver failure and death.
-- Castor bean. Although all parts of this plant are dangerous, the APCC warns that the seeds contain the highest concentration of toxins. Ingestion can produce significant abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. In severe cases, dehydration, tremors, seizures and death could result.
For more information on poison risks to pets, visit the Animal Poison Control Center on the Web site of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspca.org). Veterinary Partner (www.veterinarypartner.com) also has information on choosing pet-safe plants on its Web site.
(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.)
PETS ON THE WEB
Plenty of help for ferret fans
There's a reason for the growing popularity of ferrets: They're small, affectionate and playful pets who keep their owners smiling. As with any pet, though, the key to successful ferret-keeping is making sure you're the right fit for a pet ferret, and then providing what your ferret needs to thrive.
Ferret Central (www.ferretcentral.org) has the answer to any questions you could possibly have about ferrets -– and in several languages, to boot! The site is clean, information-packed and easy to navigate, with tons of links to explore.
California has thousands of ferrets, even though they're illegal in the state. But ferret fans there are nothing if not persistent. After failing again in their quest for legalization -- the last time with a veto by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once had a ferret co-star in one of his movies -- ferret forces are back with a bill they hope will finally pass. Details are on the Ferrets Anonymous Web site (www.ferretsanonymous.com).
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.
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