Universal Press Syndicate
Too often, pet owners leave veterinary hospitals with prescriptions they don't fully understand for pets who don't want to take their medicine.
As a practicing veterinarian, I can tell you that pets need to get their medicine exactly as prescribed for the best possible outcome. But a recent study confirms what we veterinarians already suspected: Only 10 percent of cat owners and 30 percent of dog owners succeed in medicating their pets correctly.
This means that a lot of prescriptions end up in the cupboard or on the person rather than in the reluctant pet. That's why it's important to ask some basic questions and make sure you understand all the answers before leaving your veterinarian's office with medication in hand.
I've narrowed them down to six questions that must be answered before you head home:
-- Why has this been prescribed? "Pet owners must understand exactly what condition a pet has and what the prescribed medications are for," says Dr. John Tait of the veterinary school at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
For example, is the medication an antibiotic, a wormer, an anti-inflammatory drug, a pain medication or something to soothe the intestinal tract? Are we fighting a fever by giving an antibiotic, trying to prevent a secondary infection, or stopping diarrhea or vomiting?
-- How long should I give my pet this medicine? "There is a tendency to discontinue medication when our pets appear 'cured,'" says Dr. Kelly Diehl, an internal medicine specialist at the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado in Englewood, Colo. "Owners need to follow their pet's medication schedule for the entire time prescribed."
Diehl uses the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics as an example. A pet may seem better, but the bacteria can prepare a second wave of attack if the medication isn't given for the duration prescribed.
-- How should I give this, and how often? Is the medication oral or topical? Will it be given in response to symptoms or on a regular schedule?
"Because of busy schedules, it is easy to overlook a pet's medication," says Diehl. The easiest way to keep on schedule is to write down the doses in your home calendar and check them off when given to your pet. This way, you give all the doses for the proper amount of time. And if you miss a dose, don't double up to catch up. Instead, give the next dose at the prescribed time.
Make sure, too, that you know how to get the medicine where it's going, such as by "pilling" an uncooperative pet. Ask for a demonstration or, if you can't handle the task at hand, ask for alternatives.
-- What about food and water? In a recent study, cats given medications without water were found to have the pills stranded far from the destination in the stomach. That's why medications should be chased with water, which for cats means giving them a syringeful after every pill. And don't forget to keep checking that ample water is available to your pet, since some medications increase thirst.
Also, ask if the medication needs to be given with food or on an empty stomach. Different medications are digested and metabolized in different ways. Some medications are given on a full or partially full stomach in order to prevent irritation to the stomach lining.
-- What side effects should I watch for? "We try to be sure side effects are covered verbally at the time of the prescription and then followed with written information," says Dr. Thomas Carpenter of Newport Harbor Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Some side effects are not harmful, while others -- typically vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, paralysis -- can be quite serious. Ask what to expect, what is routine and what's not, and call your veterinarian if you have the slightest doubt or concern.
-- Is this safe with other medications? Make sure your veterinarian is aware of all other medications or supplements your pet is on, and don't add any others without checking first.
"A great example of this danger is the use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Many people think of aspirin as a very safe medication, but when combined with an NSAID it is very dangerous," says Carpenter.
The most important lesson all experts stress is to make sure the pet receives the medications. If you can't give the medications as prescribed, don't feel embarrassed or guilty, and do not put the meds away in the cupboard to tick away toward expiration. Call your veterinarian for help.
"We'll figure out a way to give the meds," says Dr. Karen Johnson with Banfield the Pet Hospital in Portland, Ore.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dogmobiles," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Good shelters resist labeling
Q: I've been thinking about getting a dog. But I don't know how to be sure that the shelters in the area are good ones. We have shelters that put pets down when they become crowded and those that are "no-kill." And once I find a shelter, how do I go about finding the right dog for me without going on impulse alone? -- P.B., via e-mail
A: You'll find good shelters among both the traditional and "no-kill" variety, and less-than-ideal ones in both categories as well.
Some no-kill shelters get that way by refusing to accept animals that are not adoptable or by refusing all animals when they are full. The turn-aways often end up at another shelter, one whose staff often very much resents having to be the bad guy. As for traditional shelters, some seem to believe it's easier to euthanize surplus pets than to make much of an effort to see them adopted.
Fortunately, pioneering shelters in both categories have done a lot of work to raise the bar for all shelters, and both the pets and those who adopt them have benefited greatly from the changes.
Good shelters of all philosophical persuasions have a few things in common. You should look for these traits when choosing a place to find a pet because it's good to support a progressive organization, and because it's in your best interest to do so.
First, a shelter should be clean. Because money is always tight, it's not uncommon for even a good shelter to look a little worn around the edges. Many would love to have new buildings, new cages, new runs and so on, but few can afford them. Still, cleanliness should always be a priority. If a shelter can't manage the most basic cleaning regimen, you should wonder about what else it isn't doing right.
Another key sign: an upbeat professional staff and a supportive group of volunteers. Both are essential when it comes to offering healthy, well-socialized animals for adoption, as well as counseling to help you pick out the right pet from so many needing homes.
Make a list beforehand of the attributes you want -- such as coat length, size, activity level -- and stick to it. You won't be doing the "wrong" dog a favor if you let your heart rule the day and then decide later that you made a poor match. Take your time, and take a friend who'll help you to suppress the impulse to take home the first sad face you see. And let the shelter help you. Those adoption counselors want to help you make a match for life. -- Gina Spadafori
More on muddy paws
Q: In response to the question about the 2-year-old golden retriever bringing mud into the house, would you pass along how I keep things clean?
I also have a golden retriever who likes to bring the outdoors indoors on her paws. No matter how much I wipe them, some dirt still remains. I've come up with a quick and easy solution to the muddy problem.
Pet stores sell dog booties. Before she goes outside, I simply slip them on her. Then when she is ready to come back in, she waits for me to take off the muddy boots (I trained her to do this). The mud is on the boots and not her paws. If they are really muddy, I just rinse them off under the kitchen tap. No more muddy dog paws on my kitchen floor. -- V.U., via e-mail
A: I'm always amazed and delighted at the ingenuity of readers when it comes to caring for pets. Congratulations on coming up with a solution that works for you and your dog. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Westminster gets all the top dogs
The 131st annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show is the top event in the American dog-show calendar. This year's incarnation will be held Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 12-13. As always, it's at Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan, and it will be televised on the USA Network.
The show is for champion dogs only, with invitations being offered to the top-winning dogs of each of the American Kennel Club's 165 breeds and variety. The remaining slots are thrown open to all champions and are filled in less than an hour.
In all, 2,632 dogs will compete. Leading the way with the most entries are California (283) and New York (253). Rhodesian ridgebacks have the highest entry, with 50, while Cavalier King Charles spaniels have 43 entries. Havanese, French bulldogs and Labrador retrievers each have 38 entries, and golden retrievers and Chinese cresteds have 37 each.
Streaming video of the judging and results will be available on the Westminster Web site, westminsterkennelclub.org. -- Gina Spadafori
'Blocked' cats need vet's help
In cats, obstipation is described as the inability to defecate, a very painful and serious condition that demands prompt veterinary attention. The causes of this backup are not well-understood, but they result in intestines that become dilated and unable to push stools out of the body normally.
If your cat is straining or crying out while trying to defecate, or if you notice an absence of feces in the litter box, your pet has a potentially serious problem. Oddly, this blockage may initially appear as diarrhea because your cat's body, so irritated by the retained feces, may generate lots of watery fluid or mucus to try to cope. This discharge may seem like "ordinary" loose stools when passed.
Any changes in your cat's litter-box habits need to be investigated by your veterinarian, the sooner the better, and obstipation is no exception. -- VeterinaryPartner.com
Greyhounds move quickly into the heart
Do you want a dog who is quiet and clean in the house, takes long, peaceful naps on the sofa, gazes adoringly into your eyes but never pesters you to throw the ball, and is always up for a walk or a run?
If that describes you, there's a good chance the dog you want is a greyhound. Despite their image as driven athletes, greyhounds are in fact what their owners commonly call "40 mile-an-hour couch potatoes," and while the speeds may vary, the general concept is dead on. Retired racing greyhounds make wonderful pets and require much less exercise than you might expect. Regular walks and two or three good runs in a safe area each week should keep your sleek hound happy and healthy.
Weighing in between 60 and 85 pounds, greyhounds have long legs and necks that make them seem larger than they are. Their short coats mean grooming needs are minimal: A quick swipe every other day with a "hound glove," a two-sided combination of glove and brush, is perfect for removing dead hair and minimizing shedding.
Renowned for their gentle temperaments, greyhounds are wonderful family dogs. As with any of quick-reacting "sighthound" breeds, there could be problems with cats and small dogs, so be careful if you have other pets. Greyhounds are usually good with other dogs and with children. Retired racers sometimes need time and training to learn how to understand the world outside their previous track and kennel existence, which means many of them have to be taught about such things as stairs.
Greyhounds adopted from the racetrack are usually healthy, but they should be screened for a wide variety of tick-borne diseases that may be uncommon in the area where the dog will be living. Also, racing greyhounds can develop osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, so investigate any signs of lameness promptly.
Looking for more greyhound tips and information? Be sure to visit www.adopt-a-greyhound.org. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
The fly-in pet
According to a 2004 survey of pet lovers, many pet birds aren't as much chosen as "found." The top sources for getting birds (multiple answers allowed):
Flew into yard 30 percent
Pet store 17 percent
Bird shop 17 percent
Breeder 13 percent
Gift 7 percent
Pet superstore 5 percent
Friend/Relative 4 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Kittens learn neatness by watching their moms
Kittens learn to use a cat box at about 6 weeks of age. Before that, the mother cat takes care of cleanup, while kittens learn to move away from their sleeping and eating areas to eliminate.
Earth-raking behavior is instinctive. One whiff of feces is enough to start cats pawing the ground. Kittens learn to bury waste by imitating their mothers.
Burying waste not only reduces parasite load, it also demonstrates a lower status in the wild. High-ranking cats may actually place feces -- not bury them -- to mark possession of territory. Similarly, feline urine-marking is a form of communication, letting other cats know by smell the marking cat's sex, age, how recent the visit and the availability for mating.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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