Universal Press Syndicate
Your dog barks nonstop. Your dog digs, ruining your yard. Your dog chews anything he can get his teeth on. What's missing from this picture? Chances are, it's exercise.
It's not news that we humans don't get enough exercise, so it's no surprise that our dogs aren't moving much either. While most pet lovers recognize that exercise is good for their dogs, few seem to make the connection between a lack of exercise and behavioral problems that have excess energy and boredom as components.
While environmental management (such as removing barking triggers or giving a dog something acceptable to chew) and training your dog are important, these strategies are only part of the solution. Dogs aren't getting the exercise they need, and it's causing problems.
Look at the big, active dogs we adore, such as the Labrador, golden retriever and German shepherd. These breeds are high on the American Kennel Club's list of the most popular. You don't have to go far down the popularity list to find other active breeds as well. Factor in the countless retriever and shepherd mixes, and you have a lot of dogs whose genetics have prepared them to work nonstop, but they spend their lives in small, boring backyards.
And what are they doing to burn off all that natural energy? You guessed it: barking, digging, chewing.
If you're thinking of getting a dog, think very seriously about what breed you want and whether you can provide an active dog with the exercise it needs. If you can't honestly say that your dog will get 30 minutes of heart-thumping aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week -- daily is better -- then you really ought to reconsider getting an active large breed.
Instead, consider the alternatives. For large breeds, look at the sight hounds, such as the greyhound, saluki or even the massive Irish wolfhound. These breeds were not developed to work all day like the retriever, husky and sheepdog, but rather to go all out for a short period of time and then chill out. They're big, but they're couch potatoes by choice. Many guarding breeds, such as Rottweilers, boxers and Akitas, also have relatively minimal exercise requirements. All dogs love and need their exercise, but not all dogs will go crazy if they don't get a ton of it.
Most small breeds are easy in the exercise department, too, not because they don't need a lot of exercise, but because it's not as difficult to exercise a small dog with short legs. A Yorkie, pug or corgi can get good exercise in a small yard or on a brisk walk.
If you must bring a large, active breed or mix into your home, then you also must meet your dog's needs when it comes to exercise.
Your efforts will pay off for you as well as your dog. Experts agree: A dog that gets plenty of exercise is less likely to develop behavior problems (and more likely to be able to overcome any behavior problems that are already established). Plus, an active dog will be less likely to suffer from life-shortening obesity.
So get out that leash. Find that ball. And make some time to get your dog out and running. Exercising your dog -- especially if you're a walker or runner -- is great for your own physical and mental health as well.
Tennis ball use must be supervised
Tennis balls are so popular with pet owners that many never see a tennis court -- they go straight to the dogs. In fact, some "tennis" balls are designed with dogs in mind, in decidedly non-regulation sizes and colors, and in super-tough materials designed to make it more difficult to pop the cover off or pierce the exterior and render a ball bounceless.
These popular playthings are not without risks, though. Veterinarians warn that tennis balls should be used for supervised retrieving play only and never allowed to be used as a chew toy. That's because a dog can compress the ball, which can then pop open in the back of the mouth, cutting off the air supply.
When used with caution, though, there's probably nothing more popular among dogs than tennis balls. And there's nothing that has inspired more related products, including pet toys that fling tennis balls (as in jai alai), drive them like golf balls or shoot them out at a batting cage. -- Gina Spadafori
Why is my cat chewing cloth?
Q: My cat is obsessed with chewing on things, particularly items made of soft woven material, like the throw I have over the back of the couch. She'll suck on the throw and then chew holes in it. What's missing in her diet? -- W.P., via e-mail
A: Dogs will chew on almost anything, especially when they're puppies (destructive chewing is a common behavior complaint made by people with dogs).
But there is a destructive chewing problem in some cats, too. It's called "wool-sucking," because wool sweaters, blankets, etc., seem to be the most attractive to cats who have this behavior. (Some "wool-sucking" cats prefer plastic materials, such as the kind found in plastic grocery bags.) The chewing isn't quite like a dog's totally destructive gnaw-it-up, either: Wool-sucking cats typically work the same spot on a piece of cloth, sucking and chewing on that one spot continually.
Some have attributed this behavior to a kitten's being weaned too early or to the taste of lanolin in wool cloth. In fact, the behavior most likely has a hereditary component, since it's most common in the so-called Oriental breeds such as Siamese or their mixes.
In some cases, more roughage in the diet (such as pureed pumpkin) can reduce a cat's desire to destroy wool clothing and other household items. The best advice, though, is to put away what you don't want the wool-sucker to destroy and be sure your cat gets enough exercise -- the more interactive play the better -- to help reduce nervous energy. -- 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.
How hot is it? Check your cat
Cats sleep in one of two basic positions: upright (think of the New York Public Library lions) or on their sides. How curled a cat is when sleeping on her side will depend on how hot or cold the animal is. The more tightly curled a cat is, the colder the air temperature. Curling into a tight ball helps to conserve body heat. When cats stretch out, they expose their bellies, allowing for heat to escape and helping to cool them.
That said, cats generally like to be warm and will seek out all the warmest places in the home to sleep, as perhaps befitting an animal with its roots in the desert.
The tops of televisions (and before that, old cabinet-style radios) have long been popular. More recently, CRT computer monitors have been favorites with feline heat-seeking missiles. What's a cat to do now that more and more computer monitors are being replaced with flat-screen displays? -- Gina Spadafori
Dog spit no substitute for antiseptic
The idea that a dog's saliva has healing powers dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose physicians believed it to be an antidote for poisoning.
Modern medicine doesn't look kindly on such theories, especially when the things a dog eats and licks get taken into account. So if you have a wound, try some antiseptic spray and a Band-Aid instead.
Why do dogs seem so interested in sniffing or licking wounds? One reason is that the serum that leaks from an open sore is sweet. -- Dr. Marty Becker
The secret behind that zooming cat
The average domestic cat can run at a speed of around 30 mph.
To put things in perspective, the thoroughbred is the fastest breed of horse and can maintain a speed of 45 mph for over a mile. The fastest greyhounds run at speeds of just under 42 mph for about a third of a mile. But it's a cat that takes the land speed record: the cheetah, which can hit 70 mph for several hundred yards.
Like the cheetah -- albeit, not as fast -- domestic cats are built for quick bursts of speed. And while you could never outrun a dog over distance, you could outrun a cat. A cat will quickly overheat when running and will have to stop after just 30 to 60 seconds to rest and cool down.
Before you outrun a cat, though, he'll probably be over the nearest fence: A cat can jump six times his own length from a sitting position. A cat's powerful thigh muscles coil and release incredible energy, allowing him to escape gravity and fly.
Cats who zoom around the room for no apparent reason actually do have a reason after all: They're burning off excess energy. This is especially true for indoor cats that don't get enough exercise or stimulation by way of play that emulates hunting.
In the wild, cats sleep by day, storing up the energy for explosive chases when they're hunting their meals at night.
For house cats, though, hunting involves sauntering into the kitchen to kill a bowl of food, which doesn't require much effort. That excess energy still needs to be burned off -- usually sometime around midnight, when you're trying to sleep. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Good dog, safe dog
Although free-roaming, vicious dogs are the stuff of our nightmares, we are statistically more likely to be bitten by dogs we know. Experts say the numbers of serious or deadly dog bites can be dramatically reduced by neutering and by raising animals to be well-socialized, well-trained family members (as opposed to having neglected outdoor "protection" dogs).
Here are some dog-bite statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
-- 80 percent of dog-bite incidents involving children are inflicted by a family dog (30 percent) or a neighbor's dog (50 percent).
-- 75 percent of fatal dog bites were inflicted on family members or guests on the family's property.
-- 8 percent of dog bites involving adults were work-related (inflicted on such workers as meter readers, repairmen, etc.).
How much should a cat weigh?
An ideal weight for most cats is 8 to 12 pounds. Even the larger breeds of cat rarely exceed 15 pounds, with the exception of a few relatively rare breeds.
Some breeds of cat routinely weigh a few pounds more, though, without an ounce of fat on them. Among the heaviest breeds are Norwegian forest cats, Maine coon cats, rag dolls, Siberians and Turkish vans. In these breeds, the largest males routinely approach or top the 20-pound mark.
The Singapura is the smallest breed of cat, with females as tiny as 4 pounds. The Cornish rex, Devon rex and Japanese bobtail are also feline featherweights, weighing in at about 6 to 9 pounds.
Fat is unhealthy for cats, but crash diets can be deadly. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat's proper weight and how to attain it. -- Dr. Marty Becker.
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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