Every year brings more opportunities for traveling with pets. Guidebooks, Web sites, hotel chains (both modest and high-end), dog camps and special dog-friendly tours -- businesses geared to helping people take a vacation with their pets have never been more numerous.
The best way to plan your vacation? Check out Web sites dedicated to traveling with pets, and look for ads in pet-related magazines and newsletters.
The AAA guide to pet-friendly travel seems to double in size every third year, and it's a must-have for basic information on which hotels and motels accept dogs. For more detailed information, check out any number of dog-friendly guides that offer such information as to which restaurants welcome dogs on their patios, which beaches or other recreational areas offer legal off-leash exercise, and even the locations of the nearest self-serve dog wash.
Don't rely on any listing or book too much, though. Policies change, which is why it's essential to always call ahead and confirm that pets are still welcome where you've made your reservations.
Even though more people than ever are traveling with their dogs, there are plenty of people who don't like sharing space with the four-legged tourists. There are also plenty of resort properties that are one pet mess away from changing to a no-dog policy. That means you and your dog must be above reproach, to keep a great place open for future pet travel.
Three rules for safe and considerate pet travel:
-- Keep 'em clean. Your dog should be well-groomed and clean smelling. Always dry off wet dogs and wipe off muddy feet -- using your towels, not the motel's -- before allowing your dog inside. Cover furniture, carpets and bedspreads with your old sheets and towels. And if you need to bathe your dog, be sure, again, to use your towels and clean up afterward.
-- Keep 'em under control. Your dog should be obedient, friendly but not annoying, and never aggressive -- not to people, not to pets and not to wildlife. Do not allow your dog to bark uncontrollably. Use your best judgment when to let a dog off the leash in areas where doing so is allowed, and be sure that your dog isn't annoying other people or pets.
-- Pick up after 'em. Take your dog to out-of-the-way places on resort property to do his business -- the corner of the far parking lot, not the grassy inner courtyard. No leg-lifting allowed near rooms and eating areas. Make it so the pickiest dog hater on Earth wouldn't notice your dog has been around.
And finally, don't forget to show your appreciation. Those of us who travel with our pets realize it's a privilege, not a right, to have a nice place to stay. So along with keeping your pet from being a nuisance, don't forget to say "thank you" to resort staff, and tip generously when appropriate. Pets mean extra work for the people who work at these places, so let's try to keep them on our side.
Secure pets for a safer ride
Securing a dog in a vehicle makes sense all around. A loose dog in the car can cause an accident by distracting the driver. In an accident or even if the driver has to stop suddenly, a dog can hurt himself or other passengers.
Last year I tried out the PetBuckle ($36 in four sizes from www.petbuckle.com), and this year we're testing the Champion Canine Seat Belt (starting at $30 for five sizes from www.champk-9.com). Both products are easy to use, and my two older dogs seem to find them comfortable.
My two young retrievers ride in wire crates secured in the back of my minivan. The Midwest 606SS crates (retailing for around $130 each from www.midwesthomes4pets.com) are designed to fit side-by-side in minivans and SUVs, and they collapse for easy removal and storage.
Finding a home for mom's cat
Q: After my mom died a few weeks ago, my dad asked me to take her cat Mandy. We have three cats already, and our attempts to integrate Mandy into our home have not gone well. There has been a lot of hissing from all the cats, and we're seeing lots of accidents, too, although I'm not sure which cat is behind that.
I feel awful about it. But my cats are unhappy, and so is my husband. Things have to go back to the way they were, without Mandy. Can you help? -- K.P., via e-mail
A: I'm so sorry you're in such a difficult position, and I know you want to do your best for your mom and for Mandy. Would it be possible to divide your home so Mandy has her own space temporarily, while all the cats adjust, or even permanently? Would one of your mom's friends or another family member take her? Would your dad take Mandy back if he knew her fate was uncertain otherwise?
If none of these suggestions is feasible, you might have to find a new home for Mandy. It's not easy to place an adult cat, but it's not impossible if you resolve to work at it and be patient.
Make fliers, take out ads, and use the Internet to spread the word. Post the fliers everywhere you can -- bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office. Talk to everyone, even people who you know won't take her. Someone who doesn't want a cat may know someone else who'd be perfect for Mandy.
Don't be so quick to place her that you aren't careful to check out any home that comes forward. Some people are such bad news that Mandy would be better off dead than to go out your door with any of them. (It's not unheard of for people to take pets for the training of fighting dogs, or for sales to research laboratories.) Ask for a veterinary reference, and ask about previous pets. A person who cannot name a veterinarian or has a history of having pets who have disappeared or have been dumped is not a good candidate. Check references!
Just as you want the person to be honest with you, you should be honest with them regarding any behavior or health problems Mandy has. My experience in placing pets has convinced me that many people will take a pet with problems if the situation is explained in advance. Someone who expects one sort of pet and gets another may not be so understanding.
If you absolutely, positively cannot keep Mandy, a no-kill shelter might be able to provide her with the home she needs while giving her another chance at clicking with someone looking for a cat. If you find a no-kill shelter or rescue group that can take her, please consider giving them a monetary donation to help offset the cost of their operation.
Worms? Maybe not
Q: Can you assume the trouble is worms when dogs drag their bottoms? We're trying to avoid another trip to the veterinarian. -- G.L., via e-mail
A: When a dog scoots across the carpet or grass on his rear, he's trying to relieve an itch or irritation. Parasites like tapeworms can be one source of that irritation. It can also be impacted or infected anal sacks, fecal material that is clinging to the hair, or even constipation or diarrhea.
Your pet needs to see a veterinarian, and there's no way around that. The only way to relieve your pet's discomfort is to get an accurate diagnosis followed by treatment proper for the condition.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Some pets need sun protection
Sunblock for your pet? You bet!
The risks of overexposure to the sun can be a problem for many dogs, reminds veterinary dermatologist Dr. Peter J. Ihrke of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
"Unfortunately, dogs can develop a wide variety of sun-associated problems beyond sunburn just as humans can," says Ihrke. "Repetitive sun exposure can lead to chronic skin changes and sun-induced skin cancer, just as it can in people."
Ihrke says the animals most at risk for sun-caused skin disease and cancer are those with short, white coats, light-colored skin and sparse tummy fur. Breeds that fit these characteristics include Dalmatians, bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, whippets, Italian greyhounds and greyhounds. The more sun, the greater the risk, he says, noting that dogs who like to sunbathe and are permitted to do so are at the greatest risk.
Skin cancer can hit dogs as young as 4 years old, he says, which is why prevention is extremely important. Decreasing exposure is the only way to protect an animal from sun-related problems.
"Preventing sunbathing, having roofs over outdoor runs and using solar protective T-shirts or dog shirts can be very helpful," says Ihrke. "We also recommend waterproof pediatric or children's sunscreens. Sunscreens designed for children are less likely to be irritating and commonly do not have scents added."
Pets always need water and shade
Shade and access to water is a must for all pets during warm weather. Check to be certain that pets who stay outside while you're gone have a place to get out of the sun both in the morning and the afternoon.
Water should be left in a shaded place as well, to keep the dish and the water from heating up. One way to keep a pet's drinking water cool is to add homemade ice blocks. Freeze water in margarine tubs, and then add the blocks of ice to the water dish before you leave for work in the morning.
On hot days it's perfectly fine to give pets ice cubes to enjoy. Dogs and cats may even enjoy "petsicles" made from chicken or beef broth, which is frozen in ice cube trays.
Grooming is about more than good looks
Keeping your cat well-groomed will help you spot health problems before they become serious. Is your cat's coat thinning? Is his weight where it should be? Are there wounds, lumps or bumps? You'll find the answers to all these questions when you groom your cat.
The amount of time you'll spend grooming your cat depends on a couple of factors, primarily the kind of coat your cat has. With their long, silky coats, Persians and Himalayans need daily brushing, combing, detangling, frequent baths and even professional grooming on occasion.
Cats with medium or short coats are fine with weekly brushing and a bath now and then -- more frequently if you have allergy sufferers in the home or if you're especially sensitive to finding hair everywhere.
Although it's easiest to teach a cat to tolerate grooming when you start with a kitten, even an adult cat can learn to appreciate -- or at least tolerate -- the attention. Here are some tips to get you started:
-- Give yourself a fresh start. If you have a longhaired cat or kitten who's badly matted, arrange to have him shaved down by a groomer so you don't torture the poor thing by trying to comb out the clumps.
-- Go slowly. Introduce new routines a little bit at a time, and it will build your cat's tolerance.
-- Reward your cat. Use treats, praise and gentle petting to let your pet know that you approve of his behavior. You can't make a cat do anything he doesn't want to, so praise is the only way to go.
-- Know when to call it a day. You'll do better if you stop before your cat becomes impatient, annoyed or afraid. But if you miss the signs or feel yourself becoming cross, stop what you're doing and end the session on notes of praise and petting.
BY THE NUMBERS
The lure of the wild
More than 60 percent of people with pet birds also feed wild birds, according to a survey by the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association. Here's what they offer those wild birds:
Food sold for wild birds 86 percent
Bread 39 percent
Food sold for pet birds 22 percent
Other 11 percent
ON THE WEB
Time to book vacation care
Summer vacations are a busy time for boarding kennels and pet sitters. If you're going away this summer without your pets, the sooner you can make arrangements for their care, the better.
For information on choosing a boarding kennel, visit the Internet home of the American Boarding Kennel Association (www.abka.com). New to the ABKA is information on the newest pet-care industry, doggy day-care centers.
Many pets are better suited to being cared for in the home. If yours is among them, check out the Web site of Pet Sitters International (www.petsit.com) or the National Association of Pet Sitters (www.petsitters.org).
And don't forget to talk to your veterinarian. Many veterinary hospitals offer boarding, and some veterinary technicians moonlight as pet sitters. You'll also want to talk with your veterinarian if you have birds or exotics pets, or any special requirements for care.
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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