By GINA SPADAFORI
Universal Press Syndicate
My dogs love spring and summer -- longer days, less inclement weather -- but they always seem a little disappointed when they realize they're not going to be getting as many rides in the car.
That's because in the winter there's little risk to letting a well-mannered dog wait in the car during a quick pop inside the bank, drugstore or any number of local businesses that make up a morning's errand run.
But when the days get warmer, it's no longer acceptable to leave a dog in the car, even for a few minutes. That's because the heat can build up quickly, even on a day that's just pleasantly warm, putting any pet in the car at grave risk for heatstroke.
Car rides and errands aren't the only risks to pets in warmer weather. Take care of your pets by watching out for these fair-weather hazards:
-- Heat risks. Cats have enough sense to nap on warm afternoons, but dogs do not. If you let them, they'll go where you do, even if it's too hot. Dogs are not good at keeping themselves cool, and they rely on us to keep them out of trouble.
Limit exercise to the coolest part of the day, no matter how happy your dog is to participate when it's warm. Even in the coolest part of the day, watch for signs of trouble: Glassy eyes and frantic panting indicate a dog who needs help.
Remember that older, obese or short-nosed dogs are less heat-tolerant and that all dogs need constant access to shade and an endless supply of cool, clean water.
-- Gardening risks. Protect your pets from poisonous plants, troublesome garden materials or yard chemicals. Check with the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc) to be sure your plants are pet-safe, and put any ones that aren't on the other side of a fence from your animals.
Finally, be sure to use any pesticides or fertilizers according to label directions, and let lawn chemicals dry before allowing your pet access to the yard. Snail and rodent bait can kill pets, so do not use it in areas where animals have access.
-- Field risks. If you hike through open fields or wooded areas, be sure to check your dog afterward for foxtails and ticks. The spiky seed carrier of dried grasses, a foxtail, will burrow deep into the ears or flesh of an animal, and it will need to be removed by a veterinarian if it gets in a place your pet can't reach or is left to fester.
These spiky nuisances are such a problem in my part of Northern California that I think I've spent more money having my veterinarian treat foxtail-related problems than anything else I can think of overall.
In an upcoming column, Dr. Marty Becker will address the subject of fleas and ticks, another hazard of the season.
Heartworms like it hot, too.
Warmer weather means mosquitoes, and that means heartworms.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which pick up the microscopic heartworm larvae called microfilaria when they draw blood from an infected animal. They share the parasites when they bite another animal. Once in a new host, the larvae make their way to the heart, where they grow to be 9 to 14 inches long, blocking the flow of blood and causing severe damage and possibly death.
Most infested pets are brought to the veterinarian after their owners notice them coughing at night, coughing after exercise, or experiencing a general decline in their physical condition. By the time the symptoms are noticed, however, a great deal of damage has usually been done, not only to the heart, but also to other organs such as the kidneys, which rely on a steady flow of blood to operate.
Because of the risk and expense of treating a heartworm infestation, preventive care remains an essential part of a pet's well-being. Monthly heartworm prevention has been shown to be safe and effective for most pets. Don't ignore this essential protection: Talk to your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Visiting cat has ear mites
Q: We've been sort of adopted by a cat who started sharing meals with our two cats awhile back. He's a friendly guy, so I don't mind feeding him, and I think he has already been neutered. We always seem to get our cats this way. The ones we already have came to us on their own as well.
The problem is that the edges of this new cat's ears are crusty, and inside it's pretty dirty. What's the best way to clean them? He seems pretty tolerant of treatment, but what should I put in there? -- S.P., via e-mail
A: What's in there now is something your veterinarian will have to help you get rid of. Your visiting cat likely has ear mites, nasty little pests that feed off the lining of the ear. Since the mites are highly contagious, there's a good chance that other cats in your home are likewise infested by now.
Your veterinarian can give you medication to eradicate the mites. Be warned, though, that you must continue the medication as recommended even after it seems that the problem is under control. You may also need to take your pet in for a recheck. Ear mites can be very hard to get rid of, and if you stop medicating too soon, they'll stage a comeback.
Before you adopt this cat permanently, do make a good-faith effort to find out if he already has a home. Place "found pet" ads in your local paper and online, and post fliers in the neighborhood. Somebody may be looking for him after all.
If you can't find any owner, then don't just "sort of" adopt him -- take responsibility for your pet. Because you'll be going to the veterinarian anyway for those ear mites, take care of all this cat's preventive care measures, including testing and vaccination as recommended. If he's neutered already, more's the better, and it's one less thing you'll have to have done later on. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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 "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Routine keeps cages cleaner
Cleaning up after birds is a constant battle, but getting yourself into a routine makes it easier to cope. The good news is that a few minutes a day is all it takes.
Every morning and evening you should replace soiled cage liners. You can put a few layers at the base of the cage and remove layer by layer throughout the day whenever droppings appear. Mist the bars with nonstick cooking spray -- not when your bird is nearby, though -- to help keep droppings from sticking.
You should also change food and water bowls (or bottles) twice a day. Some birds get food or even droppings in their bowls, and you need to constantly check for bowls that need cleaning. If you use a water bottle with your bird, check every morning to ensure that it's not clogged by pressing the ball with your finger.
Birds usually prefer to eat after dawn and near dusk, so these are great times to introduce fresh fruits and vegetables -- and to remove the leftovers before you go to work or bed. Leftover dry foods should be discarded every morning and replaced with fresh.
Finish off your twice-daily routine by using your cleaning solution and paper towels, and use a handheld vacuum to clean up any other messes in the vicinity. And remember: Your dishwasher is a great tool for cleaning everything from perches to dishes to toys.
While daily attention will keep things pretty clean, you'll need to do a big scrub on a regular basis -- walls, floors, the cage and all its contents.
For the big clean, scrub the cage with soap and water, and then rinse well in plain water. Soak everything you can't fit into the dishwasher -- big perches, droppings tray and so on -- in a solution of a half-cup bleach to a gallon of water. Rinse well. Then leave everything out to air-dry in the sun before setting it in place and putting your bird back in it. -- Gina Spadafori
Get help for your pet's behavior problems
Many people are reluctant to seek help if faced with a pet-behavior problem, either because they think the idea of a "pet shrink" is crazy or because they don't think the money would be well-spent.
If you're one of these people, think again. Consulting a behaviorist can save you time, money and aggravation. Time, because someone with experience in animal behavior can quickly determine the root of the problem, without the emotional baggage that a pet owner may bring to the situation. Money, because a consultation or two is a great deal cheaper than a new sofa. And aggravation? We don't need to explain that one if you're living with a problem pet.
More important, getting help can save your pet's life. Behavior problems are among the top reasons why pet owners dump their animal companions. Pets with behavior problems aren't very adoptable, and that means that time runs out for many of them before a suitable home can be found.
Be aware, however, that animal behavior is an unregulated field -- anyone can call himself a behaviorist.
One good option is to choose a veterinarian who's board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. These professionals have gone through years of study in animal health and behavior and have done a residency in the field as well. Your best bet at finding one of these veterinarians is to contact your closest school or college of veterinary medicine's teaching hospital.
People with other academic degrees (such as psychology), general-practice veterinarians and people who've picked up their pet knowledge completely in the field also make themselves available for advice on behavior. You'll find good and not-so-good people in all three areas, which makes getting recommendations and checking references important.
In addition to checking with your closest school or college of veterinary medicine, check with your own veterinarian or local humane society, any of which may be able to refer you to someone who can help. Some humane societies even offer behavior classes or consulting. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
If it seems as if you've always had a dog or cat, you're probably typical. In these 2004 responses to surveys about how long pet owners have kept pets, those with dogs or cats had more experience in caring for animal companions than did those with other pets:
Dogs: 19 years
Cats: 17 years
Birds: 10 years
Freshwater fish: 8 years
Saltwater fish: 5.5 years
Reptiles: 3 years
Small animals: 1.8 years
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
PETS ON THE WEB
Merck site makes health info easy
If there's one Web site every pet lover should have bookmarked, it's the one for the online edition of the Merck Veterinary Manual (www.merckvetmanual.com). The print version of this essential reference has been a mainstay in nearly every veterinary hospital since it was first published in 1955. The online version is one of the most significant animal-health resources ever for any pet lover.
Although no reference -- online or in print -- substitutes for a good relationship with your veterinarian, the Merck Veterinary Manual can help you become a more knowledgeable partner in getting good care for your pet. The site is well-indexed, easy to search, and is updated with the most recent information available.
That such an amazing resource is free -- there are no subscriber fees to gain access to this incredibly deep site -- is a deal too good to be believed. So take advantage of it. -- Gina Spadafori
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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