Universal Press Syndicate
While no one can guarantee a trouble-free trip, the good news is that the vast majority of pets traveling by air get where they're going in fine shape.
Even better news: Careful planning on your pet's behalf will help make things go even more smoothly.
Animals move through the airline system as unaccompanied cargo or as travelers' baggage. Unaccompanied pets and most animals traveling as baggage travel in pressurized cargo holds, while some small pets are allowed into the cabin as a carry-on. Before your pet flies:
-- Talk to the airline. Some carriers -- especially the no-frills companies -- don't take animals at all. Those that do have limits on the number of animals on a flight, typically two small pets in the passenger cabin, and not much more than that in the cargo hold. You also need to know where and when your pet has to be presented, and what papers -- health certificate, and so on -- you'll need to bring. Airlines charge extra fees even for those pets who fly in a carry-on bag, so ask about it in advance so you won't be surprised.
Also be aware that some airlines won't ship pets in the summer months, with embargoes starting as early as mid-May.
-- Be sure your pet is in good health. Air travel isn't recommended for elderly or ill animals, and is likewise ill-advised for the pug-nosed breeds of dogs and cats. These animals find breathing a little difficult under the best of circumstances, and the stress of airline travel may be more than they can handle.
-- For pets who'll be traveling in the cargo hold, use a hard-sided carrier designed for air travel, and make sure it's in good condition (no cracks in the plastic, no rust on the grating). The crate should be just big enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in. Check and double-check that all the bolts securing the halves of the carrier are in place and tightened.
Pets that are small enough to ride in the passenger cabin will be more comfortable in a soft-sided carrier.
Carry-on pets should have a collar and ID tag, but that's not safe for pets traveling below. Instead, put an ID tag on a piece of elastic around the pet's neck, and make sure contact information is written large and indelibly on the outside of the crate. A water dish should be attached to the inside of the door grate so airline personnel can add water without opening the door.
-- Consider travel conditions. Don't ship your pet when the weather is extreme or when air traffic is heaviest. Avoid peak travel days, and be sure to choose flights that are on the ground when the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold, not only at the departure airport but also at the connecting and arriving airports. In summer, a night flight is likely better, while the reverse is true in the winter.
-- Choose a direct flight. If that's not possible, try for a route with a single connection and a short layover. Most animal fatalities occur on the ground, when pets are left in their crates on the hot tarmac or in stifling cargo holds. Direct flights eliminate layovers, and short layovers reduce the time on the ground. Better yet: Choose a direct flight with an airline that has special handling available for pets, keeping them off the tarmac until just before flight time and transporting them to and from the plane in a climate-controlled van.
-- Ask about your pet, persistently but politely. Make your presence known! Confirm that your pet has been loaded and has made any connection en route. It would not hurt to do what you can to make your pet stand out as more than mere cargo. One person I know puts a prominent sign on her retriever's kennel when he flies. "I am the beloved pet of a 5-year-old boy," it says.
-- Contrary to popular belief, it's generally safer for your pet not to be tranquilized before flying. The combination of high altitude and limited oxygen is a challenge your pet's body is better prepared to meet if he's not sedated. Still, your pet may be an exception. In the end, you and your veterinarian should decide on this issue.
The Air Transport Association, the trade group for the nation's airlines, offers information on its Air Travel for Your Dog or Cat Web page (www.airlines.org). The ATA details the preparation of a pet for air travel, how to set up the carrier and how to check on your pet en route.
Snail control and pet safety
Q: Every year I put out my garden plants, both vegetables and flowers. And some years the snails seem to eat them the first night they're in the ground. I have a dog and two cats who come and go, plus neighbor cats. And I worry about birds, too. What are your recommendations for pet-safe snail control? -- P.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.
My friend Laura, a kind soul to all living creatures with the exception of snails, used to take great delight in conducting those "flashlight raids" on her garden beds at night, scooping up every snail she could find and putting them in a plastic bag. In the morning, she'd throw the marauders against a big sycamore tree in her yard, enjoying the cracking of every snail shell. After her arm got tired, she'd put the rest of the snails in the trash bin.
It's a little extreme perhaps, but a desire for snail death is something any gardener may understand, if not emulate.
The Animal Poison Control Center has information on pet-poison hazards, including those in the garden. Check out the site (www.aspca.org/apcc) for information on pesticides, mulches, fertilizers and plants that need to be kept away from your pets. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Cap may calm an anxious dog
The Calming Cap is a sheer fabric hood that fits over a dog's head. Developed by Trish King, director of animal behavior and training at the Marin Humane Society, this "muted window" covers the dog's eyes and reduces visual stimuli and lowers their reactivity.
It is comparable to a human looking through a screen door at dusk, yet the pet still has enough vision to see shapes and can confidently maneuver in his environment with a little practice. The Calming Cap, which comes in different sizes, attaches with Velcro to the collar, and the soft fabric and elastic provide a comfortable fit for most dogs (the product is not available specifically for cats).
Veterinary behaviorists say the Calming Cap has proven to be a powerful tool in treating:
-- Dogs who get hyper-excited or sick on car trips.
-- Dogs who bark explosively in the car or when looking out of the house.
-- Fearful dogs in the vet's office (or groomer's) for nail trims, ear cleanings or other high-stress procedures, allowing a much more gentle experience for the pet.
-- Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety.
-- Docile dogs who lack confidence.
-- Canines who get nervous in interactions with other dogs or with people.
Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., a certified animal behaviorist in Littleton, Colo., has also used the Calming Cap for more serious behavior problems. "I've used the Calming Cap to successfully lower the arousal level of dogs in the same family that are fighting, which helps facilitate behavior modification. It's also been helpful to reduce arousal during problem introductions between a newly acquired dog and resident cats."
An article in the Society of Animal Behavior Technicians gave the product an A-plus in the veterinary setting. The only reported problems were the few animals who feverishly tried to remove it and the fact that it could snag quite easily with cats.
The Calming Cap is available at veterinary hospitals, pet-retail outlets and online at www.premier.com and www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com. The retail price is $20. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Wheezy cats need help from the vet
Feline asthma occurs when a cat's airways become inflamed by allergens, constrict and make breathing labored. The condition is seen in dogs but much more frequently in cats. Siamese breeds and overweight cats are most are risk.
While some cats may require prescription treatments (corticosteroids, bronchodilators) for asthma, there are six steps you can take at home to minimize the discomfort and risk your feline friend faces:
-- Shrink your cat. The signs of asthma are exacerbated by obesity, and even the loss of a few pounds can make a big difference. Ask your veterinarian for help in outlining a safe weight-loss plan.
-- Less Sahara, more Amazon. Whether it's the furnace in the winter or the air conditioner in the summer, inside air becomes very dry, and this may trigger asthma attacks. Use a humidifier to pump up the volume of moisture in the air.
-- Stop your cat from smoking. We're talking about secondhand smoke here, and you'll be doing your cat a potentially lifesaving favor by smoking outside.
-- Be a litterbug. Many brands of cat litter have a lot of dust, so use dust-free litter or litter made of a different substrate such as corn or recycled paper.
-- Clear the air. Limit use of perfumes, scented candles and pungent household cleaners in the house, and be a neat freak when it comes to dusting and washing bedding to limit dust mites. Many experts recommend using electrostatic air cleaners and heap filters on houses with central heating and air conditioning.
-- Be a Zen master. Stressful events -- strange pet, trip to the groomer, rearranging furniture -- can trigger asthma attacks. Take steps to decrease stress, like nixing visits from a friend's pet, postponing grooming and using synthetic pheromone diffusers.
A word of extreme caution: Some cats that have heartworms act like they're asthmatic. Your veterinarian may recommend a simple blood test to rule out heartworm disease. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Food is reported as the top purchase -- 60 percent -- among bird lovers, which makes one wonder: How are the other 40 percent getting fed? After food, the top purchases made by bird owners annually include (multiple answers allowed):
Treats 46 percent
Toys 36 percent
Gravel 20 percent
Vitamins 16 percent
Dishes 15 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Food treats get attention
Because pets communicate with body language more than verbal language, it makes sense to show, not tell, pets what to do. Food gets their attention and makes learning more of a game than hard work.
For example, before a meal, put a kibble or treat in your hand and let your pet lick or sniff it as you walk backward. Keep the food at mouth level, and your pet will likely follow. Add the word "come" just before releasing the treat, and your pet will eventually learn the word.
You can teach many behaviors this way. To teach "sit," move the treat up and back over the head until it's easier to sit than stand. Just as your pet sits, give the treat and say, "Sit." Add "Goooood!" with a finger tickle to your pet's favorite spot plus some lovey-dovey talk to seal the deal.
(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 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 free pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
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