Universal Press Syndicate
This Fourth of July, as always, Americans will be enjoying the sights and sounds of fireworks. While we love the pyrotechnics, we need to remember our midsummer spectacular is no holiday for many of our pets.
While we humans are oohing and aahing, too often our pets are frightened out of their wits. They'll spend the holiday under the bed (or in the basement) cowering, shaking, drooling and seeking safety and comfort. And it's not just on the Fourth of July: Both cats and dogs can panic at loud noises such as thunder and gunfire as well.
Our golden retriever, Shakira, wouldn't flinch if a keg of gunpowder exploded next to him. Shop vacs, lawn mowers, grass trimmers, motorcycles, thunderstorms and fireworks elicit but a yawn. On the other hand, Quixote, our Yorkie/Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix, treats loud sounds as if the grim reaper were calling -- and there's no way she's going to answer. When it comes to loud sounds, this dog is a scaredy-cat.
But loud noises such as fireworks can startle and distress many pets, with their supersensitive hearing. Scared pets have been known to jump out of apartment windows, leap over or dig under fences, or chew their skin until it's raw. They may also bolt out an open door to become lost but never found.
Comforting scared pets seems the right thing to do, but it's not. Don't reward the fear. If you remain calm and don't baby them, they'll be closer to learning how to handle loud noises.
The best defense against Fourth of July problems is a good offense. Professional trainers and behaviorists start socializing dogs and making every potentially negative experience -- such as fireworks and thunderstorms -- into something rewarding. If a negative experience comes with tasty treats, then your pet is going to at least tolerate it, if not welcome it. This works best when started as a puppy, but don't give up hope if your dog is already an adult: New behaviors can be learned.
One way to help your pet is to expose him or her to commercial recordings of thunderstorms or fireworks and play them at increasing volume. Play the recordings at low volume -- recognizing how acute a pet's hearing is -- and give praise and treats. It's a party! As the volume and duration are increased during subsequent sessions, give them really tasty treats so they have the expectation of a repeat treat. Initially, play the recording for five minutes, eventually leaving it on during daily activities as "normal" background noise.
Also, provide pets with safe hiding spaces inside your home during the holiday fireworks or a storm. Dogs and cats who are comfortable in crates can find them a good place to ride out the noise, especially if the crate is put in a quiet, darkened part of the house.
Of course, some pets are so unhinged by noise that veterinary-prescribed tranquilizers are needed to keep them calm. Remember to call well in advance of the holiday, and give the medications as recommended -- they usually work best before the rockets' red glare begins. And talk to your veterinarian about other calming techniques. Some alternative-care veterinarians may recommend the herbal product Rescue Remedy, while others can show you acupressure and massage techniques to keep pets more calm.
This Independence Day, while we enjoy our parades, picnics and fireworks, don't forget your pet: He's counting on you!
For pets who continue to become upset at loud noises, there are some products that may help.
Head halters such as the Gentle Leader head collar mimic how mother dogs control and comfort their young by putting pressure on the bridge of the nose or behind the ear. You can also try the Calming Cap, a product that fits over a pet's head and eyes. The Gentle Leader head halter and Calming Cap are available through Premier products (www.premier.com, 888-640-8840).
The Anxiety Wrap (www.anxietywrap.com, 877-652-1266) applies gentle pressure to a dog's body to focus his attention away from what's scaring him. Advocates compare its use and effect to how whole-body pressure is used to calm overstimulated autistic children. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Why should pets sleep in the bed?
Q: Is there any reason why a pet has to sleep in the house, much less in the bed? I want my fiancee's dog and her two cats tossed out before I move into her house. I had pets growing up, and they stayed outside. That's where animals belong. -- H.A., via e-mail
A: A long, long time ago, dogs slept in doghouses and cats, well, they catted around at night, maybe taking a catnap in the barn or an alley. Things sure have changed!
My wife and I live on a mile-high mountain in far Northern Idaho. It gets cold at night, so we sleep, year-round, with a comforter on our king-sized bed. Snuggled in with room to spare, Teresa and I start every night with the expectation of a restful night's sleep. In theory, this is how it should work, but it doesn't, thanks to Quixote, the little dog who shares our bed. (Or, should I say, Quixote allows us to share her bed.)
If I snore, Teresa elbows me in the ribs. If Quixote snores, she ignores it. If she pulls the comforter off me, I retaliate unconsciously and instantly, without concern for anything other than my own comfort, but I somehow make sure Quixote stays warm and toasty.
If I cross onto Teresa's side of the bed and make her uncomfortable, she waits but a nanosecond to push or shove me back onto my side of the bed or even onto the floor. But if Quixote decides she wants to sleep next to Teresa or on Teresa's pillow, or is wrapped around Teresa's head (trapping her in a semi-paralytic state for most of the night), my beautiful wife will not move a muscle or twitch an eyelash, because she doesn't want to interrupt the fur-queen's beauty sleep.
Despite the fact that Quixote has slept 18 of the last 24 hours, she gets another great night's sleep, while Teresa and I battle over the shut-eye scraps.
In our house, though, our pets are family. Your girlfriend clearly thinks the same of her pets, and you'd better straighten out this issue now or there'll be problems ahead. I'm guessing you won't succeed in getting the pets kicked out of the house. But having pets in the bed? That may be an area for compromise, especially if you have allergies or problems sleeping.
You might even learn to enjoy having pets as family. And there is an upside to sharing a bed with pets: You don't need an alarm clock. Your pets will get you up early in time for breakfast -- theirs, that is! -- Dr. Marty Becker
(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.
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Catching a runaway dog
If your dog is loose and you're trying to get him to come to you, call him if you think he'll head back your way. Timing is everything: Call him when he's still thinking about running away.
If you know he won't come when called (or if you see that he isn't going to come), don't chase after him. Instead, whoop happily and run away from your dog so he'll be interested enough to follow you. You'll be making the most of your dog's chase instinct.
Once he is running after you, turn toward him, squat, open your arms wide and call him in an enthusiastic, happy voice.
If he runs into your arms, hug and praise him, and give treats if you have them. While you should never let a dog off-leash who isn't trained to come when called, knowing what to do in an emergency can save your pet's life, especially if he starts to run into traffic, for example.
(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.)
Anatomy lesson: How many bones in cat?
There's no set answer when it comes to the question: How many bones does a cat have? The reason? Tails and toes.
A long-tailed cat will have more vertebrae than a Manx with no tail or a Manx mix with just part of a tail. And cats with extra toes -- they're called "polydactyls" -- will also have more bones than cats with normal paws.
The range is usually between 230 and 250 bones, with the average cat counting about 244 bones (if cats could or cared to count).
The average cat has about 30 more bones than we do. But we have something cats don't: collarbones. Not that a cat would consider that a disadvantage. Without a collarbone, a cat who's not overweight can fit his body through an opening the size of his head.
Two cats with identical tails and paws will still have a different bone count if one of the pair is male and the other female. That's because the male has a tiny bone called the "os penis." -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE BOOK
Canine behavior books aims to help, entertain
Darlene Arden's "Rover, Get Off Her Leg" (HCI, $15) is a short and sassy book of canine training advice that aims right at the heart of the most common dog behavior issues.
Arden acknowledges her own "warped sense of humor" as being one of the driving forces behind the book, and she illustrates her training tips liberally with all the little moments that make life with dogs particularly embarrassing. Mixed in with the laughter, however, is enough good information that should help dog lovers find solutions, or to know when they're in over their heads and need to seek advice from a trainer or behaviorist.
This isn't a book for anyone hoping to train a dog for competitive obedience trials. But if you need to know how to get your 6-year-old Chihuahua to stop urinating on your dining-room carpet or biting your husband every time he kisses you, this is the book for you. And given that far more dogs are turned in to shelters for house-training issues and aggressive behavior, this book will save more than carpet and relationships -- it will save the lives of dogs.
In the same vein, Arden Moore's "The Dog Behavior Answer Book" (Storey Publishing, $15) offers snappy, short answers to common canine questions. Whether it's philosophical ponderings on the nature of dogs or the age-old question of what to do when your dog hates your boyfriend, Moore puts it all together in a fun package full of interesting facts and good advice. And it's the perfect gift for a dog lover, too. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
When it comes to small mammals as pets, rabbits are the most popular, followed by hamsters and guinea pigs. All small mammals are common children's pets, but most have considerable followings among adults as well. Among those households with small mammals as pets, here's how the animals' popularity ranked in 2004 (more than one answer allowed):
Rabbit 43 percent
Hamster 36 percent
Guinea pig 20 percent
Mouse/rat 8 percent
Ferret 7 percent
Gerbil 5 percent
Chinchilla 4 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
PETS ON THE WEB
Pushing for pets in condominiums
Retiree-haven Florida may have the greatest number of people living in condominium developments, but the problems with the kind of self-rule practiced by these communities are by no means restricted to that state.
One of the biggest areas of conflict is over rules regarding pets. Size, breed and noise restrictions can sometimes seem arbitrary and even vengeful, forcing people to choose between their homes and their animal companions.
The Florida nonprofit "Citizens for Pets in Condos" (www.petsincondos.org) has a Web site with good information on how pet lovers can fight to keep their companion animals. The group is also pushing for legislative action to give condo owners the right to keep pets.
With an aging population and the proven benefits of having pets, especially to seniors, it is time to help people keep their pets no matter where they live. -- 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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