Universal Press Syndicate
More products pulled, more questions and more worries: The pet-food problem, which started on March 16 and has continued with additional recalls for more than a month, has left pet owners wondering how to feed their animals safely.
Veterinarians are doing their best to keep on top of the situation, and your veterinarian is still your primary source of advice on what's best for your own pet. But as long as the situation remains in so much flux, pet lovers must make an extra effort to be sure their pets are protected.
The vast majority of pet food now on the shelves presents no risk to animals, but the number of recalls and the wide range of brands involved make choosing products a challenge.
More than 5,500 pet-food items have landed on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recall list -- from store-label brands to premium offerings, and even a diet offered by prescription only through veterinarians. And although no one will ever know for sure, it's more than likely (based on several sources) that thousands of pets have been sickened and many of those have died.
To protect your pet, you must double-check the FDA's list before you go shopping. Go to the FDA's Web site (www.fda.gov) and click on the link for pet-food recall information. If you don't have Internet access, ask a friend or relative to check for you, or call the reference desk of your local public library.
If you have a pet who has eaten any of the recalled foods -- even if there are no symptoms -- call your veterinarian. The damage could be hidden. Your pet may need relatively inexpensive diagnostic tests to catch an illness that needs to be treated. If your pet is sick -- vomiting, increased thirst, increase in or lack of urination, lethargy, sudden bad breath, diarrhea, or lack of appetite -- you have an emergency situation, and your pet needs a veterinarian now.
Pets made sick by any commercial food should be reported to the FDA's consumer complaint lines -- the numbers are listed on the FDA Web site. The American Veterinary Medical Association's Web site (www.avma.org) is providing updated information, and our PetConnection.com Web site has been recognized from the first as a top information site during the recall.
With the potential contamination now spread beyond the initial source of wheat gluten, it's just not possible to recommend any food as "safe" beyond doubt at this time. Your veterinarian should be able to guide you to a specific product that's best for your pet, or to suggest guidelines for home-prepared meals that will take care of your pet's nutritional needs while the situation with commercial foods sorts itself out.
If you wish to go the home-prepared route, work with your veterinarian and read up on pet nutrition. One good reference for preparing meals at home is "Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative" (Iowa State Press, $43). The author, Dr. Donald Strombeck, is a retired professor of veterinary nutrition from the University of California, Davis.
Commercial diets are not going away, and they have helped pet lovers to care for generations of cats and dogs. But in the short term, all pet lovers need to not take anything for granted when in comes to pet nutrition and stay on top of the news.
Tips for switching your cat's food
Most healthy dogs will eat what you give them, but getting a cat to switch to a new food can be a challenge. With recalls forcing many cats to eat new foods, it's important to know how to do it safely.
You must first understand that your cat isn't being "finicky." He was biologically programmed in kittenhood to recognize certain textures, smells and tastes as "food" and others as "not food."
Start switching by going to scheduled mealtimes, not free-feeding. Put the food down for a half-hour and wait. Only if your cat has eaten none of the new food during that half-hour should you put down the old food. After several days, he will probably begin eating the new food.
Not working? Put a bit of the old food on top of the new. Don't mix them; you want your cat to get some of the new food in his mouth when he eats the old food.
If after a few days that hasn't done the trick, or if for some reason you can't continue giving the old food even for a short transitional period, you can try letting hunger do some of the work.
But talk to your veterinarian before going this route.
While healthy, normal-weight cats can safely miss a meal or two, fasting can cause life-threatening health problems for other cats. Ask your veterinarian if a medically supervised food transition is necessary for your cat. -- Christie Keith
Keeping cat calm during a move
Q: Our cat doesn't like change. She hates going to the vet, hates it when we move furniture and hides when we have company. We're moving, and we're worried about what a basket case she'll be. Any tips? -- W.M., via e-mail
A: While you'll never manage a stress-free move, for either you or your cat, you can make the best of the situation by keeping your cat secure before, during and after the move, and then by allowing your pet to ease into her new surroundings.
The best way to move your cat is to confine her to a small area -- I call it a "safe room" -- before and after the move. The ideal place is a spare bedroom where your cat isn't going to be disturbed. Outfit it with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.
Don't feel bad about confining your pet: She's more comfortable in a small space, and she isn't subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping out of the house with her belongings. Confining your cat also prevents her from slipping out during all the commotion.
Your cat should be confined in her safe room before packing begins and be moved to her new home in a carrier. Then confine her again in her new safe room until the moving is over, the furniture is arranged and most of the dust is settled. When you get to your new home, put the carrier down in the safe room, open the door, and let your cat decide when to come out.
After she's a little calmer, you can coax her out with some fresh food or treats. But don't rush her and don't drag her out -- you may be bitten or scratched. After a couple of days, open the door to the safe room and let your cat explore at will, on her terms, but just within the limits of the house.
Again: Above all, don't rush your cat. A slow transition with a period of confinement is also good for avoiding behavior problems that might pop up with the stress of moving. By limiting your cat's options to the litter box and to a scratching post in her safe room, she will quickly redevelop the good habits she had in your old home. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Allergies needn't mean a pet-free life
If you can get a good night's sleep, you'll be better able to cope with almost anything, even allergies. That's why one of the best pieces of advice to those who are allergic to their pets is this: Declare your bedroom a "no-pets zone," at least during the worst of spring allergy season.
That can be tough advice to follow for those of us who love to share our bedrooms, and even our beds, with our dogs and cats. For many allergy sufferers, though, establishing a pet-free sleeping area is a necessary compromise that will allow us to share our lives with pets despite our allergies.
Reduce allergy triggers further by keeping your sleeping area sparsely decorated with furnishings that do not attract dust, and be sure everything is cleaned frequently. Bedding should be washed often to combat dust mites, and pillows should be made of non-allergenic material -- no feathers. Consider running a HEPA air cleaner in the room at all times.
The idea (both in the bedroom and outside of it) is to keep your total "allergy load" -- pets and everything else that triggers your allergies -- to a level that you can live with or that can be controlled by medication. It's worth it to make an effort. Out-of-control allergies can make lives miserable and, in the case of asthma, can be life-threatening as well.
Her are some more tips for those who have both pets and allergies:
-- Work with your doctor. While you'll still find allergists who insist that your pet must go, look for one who's willing to work with you and will prescribe medications that allow your allergies and your pets to coexist.
-- Limit exposure to other allergens. Avoid cleaning solutions, cigarette smoke and strong perfumes. Consider using a mask when doing yard work and housework, especially when pollen counts are high or your home is especially dusty.
-- Let someone else do the dusting and vacuuming, if at all possible, and if not, invest in a vacuum that filters the air it releases.
-- Keep pets well-groomed. It's essential for pets to be bathed frequently and to be kept combed and brushed. Ideally, a non-allergic member of the household should assume this responsibility. Even cats should be bathed, by the way: A weekly rinse of your cat in plain water has been shown to help people who are allergic to them. -- Gina Spadafori
Honda's CR-V gains everything except dog room
Oh, Honda! Why have you forsaken us?
You've taken what was one of the best small sport-utility vehicles ever made for dog lovers -- the pre-2007 CR-V -- and turned it into one of the best "cute utes" ever. But in so doing, you took away some of what we dog lovers cherish most: cargo room.
I blame it on the swoop. Honda's stylish redesign of the boxier old CR-V is undeniably good-looking, but the sleek new angles slant the back down too far, too fast, making the otherwise ample cargo space just a little less versatile for those of us who safely crate our dogs for traveling.
It didn't used to be that way. My friend Mary has a CR-V that, with the rear seat pulled, can take three or even four crated retrievers (and even an occasional calf) just about anywhere. And she has done so for a couple hundred thousand miles of "anywhere," all over Texas. That old square back made every inch of cargo space functional, and I know a lot of dog lovers who made an art out of packing their old CR-V.
But the new CR-V? It's packed with features for a good price, economical to run and a blast to drive. But it's more sport than utility now -- plenty suitable for the trips to the vet or the dog park but not so much for the hard-core dog nut with multiple mutts and lots of gear.
With fewer dogs or less-challenging terrain, though, the CR-V's just the ticket. The top-line model I drove came in a tick under $30,000 and is loaded with all kinds of cool features including heated seats and a navigation screen that flips down to provide a shelf for an MP3-player. Fuel economy isn't bad either, at 22/28 for four-wheel drive, and even better for the two-wheel drive model.
All in all, it's a wonderful little cute ute. But Honda, we want it all: Lose the rear slope. Baby needs back. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Dogs and kids
Children and dogs are natural together. In a 2004 survey, pet owners listed the best reasons for getting a dog when you have children at home (multiple answers allowed):
Companionship, love, company: 96 percent
Fun: 75 percent
Another family member: 69 percent
Teach responsibility: 67 percent
Security: 58 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Take steps to protect your new kitten
Did curiosity kill the cat? Maybe not, but why take chances with your new kitten when it's so easy to make your home safer. Some tips:
-- Keep toilet lids closed to keep curious kittens from falling in and drowning.
-- Remove small objects from floors and countertops -- especially enticing pieces of yarn or string -- to prevent intestinal blockages that may require surgery.
Make sure your plants are safe. Check against the list of poisonous plants on the Animal Poison Control Center's Web site (www.aspca.com/apcc). Better yet: Remove all houseplants for now to keep your kitten focused on using the litter box.
Keep dryer doors closed, and do a head count when starting a load of clothes. And don't forget to check under that recliner or rocking chair to avoid catching your kitten unaware.
(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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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