Universal Press Syndicate
Dressing up? Tricks and treats? Halloween sounds like the perfect holiday when it comes to including your pet in the fun. And it can be, with a few basic precautions.
While we humans love the change in routine that holidays often bring -- the parties, the guests and the decorations -- our furred and feathered family members too often find the disruptions disturbing and sometimes dangerous.
The two biggest problems with this ghoulish holiday are frightened pets and poisoned pets -- and veterinary emergency clinics traditionally see plenty of both. With the increase in activity, cats and dogs get nervous, and some will take off if they can. That means an increase in animals hit by cars or otherwise injured when on the run.
The animals themselves may be a cause of injury: All those costumed young visitors can trigger territorial instincts or fear responses in some dogs, who may then become a bite risk.
The best solution for nervous or improperly socialized pets is to confine them for the evening in a crate or a quiet room far from the front door or any holiday festivities.
Now, about the poisons. Candy is a problem more for dogs than for cats, because cats are generally picky about what they eat. Not so for most dogs, who'll wolf down candy -- wrappers and all -- if given the opportunity, giving many a serious case of what veterinarians call "garbage gut." Any candy can trigger a bout of intestinal upset, but chocolate can do much worse. The small dog who gets a large amount of chocolate could end up dead without prompt veterinary intervention.
Some people put costumes on their dogs, and that's safe enough and plenty fun if you use common sense. You can find ready-made costumes in most pet stores, in almost as much variety as you'll find in stores for children. Homemade costumes are another good option, and you'll find a surprising number of pet-costume events where you and your dog can show off your handiwork for fun and prizes. Make sure, though, that any costume meets the commonsense standard: It should be comfortable and nonrestrictive, and it shouldn't involve anything that could be hazardous, such as dye or paint.
Many animal-welfare groups warn that black cats are at special risk around Halloween, claiming that cultists pick up the animals for ritual torture. Such concerns have led some shelters to halt the adoption of black cats in the days before Halloween.
In truth, such cruelties are so poorly documented that they surely happen rarely, if at all. Your black cat is more likely to be killed by a car than a cultist, but the threat of either is more than reason enough to keep him inside. But that's true of all cats at all times.
While pets may not like the holidays as much as we do, any celebration can be made pet-safe with just a few basic precautions. Be sure to take them, because veterinarians would rather hand out candy to children than medicine to pets on Halloween.
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Chewing normal for 'teenaged' dogs
Q: Back in May my family got a golden retriever. Because he was born in March, is he nearly at the end of his teething period? How long does this take -- until Thanksgiving or Christmas? Please tell me what we should do. Does his teething stop when he reaches his first birthday? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: Congratulations on your family's new dog. Golden retrievers are wonderful pets, but their stellar reputation leads some people to believe that they are "perfect" dogs from the day they are born. That's no more true of the golden retriever than any other pet. All dogs need training and socialization to be good pets.
Your dog is through his teething period, and all his adult teeth are in place. What you're dealing with now is the normal, healthy chewing of a young, active dog. And retrievers, especially, are known for their love of chewing in their adolescence, along with the lifelong fondness many of them have for carrying items in their mouths. Carrying things back -- retrieving -- is, after all, the job they were developed to do.
Your family needs to limit your dog's ability to get to those items you don't want chewed. While doing that, offer lots of chew toys to satisfy this healthy, natural behavior, and work on rewarding your dog for making the right choices when he chooses what to chew. You also need to make sure your dog's getting enough exercise -- at least a half-hour of heart-pumping activity every day to take the edge off his youthful exuberance.
Your veterinarian can advise you on choosing healthy, safe chew toys, and there have never been more choices. One perennial favorite is the Kong, which can be stuffed with goodies (such as peanut butter and broken dog biscuits) to make it even more appealing.
If you catch your dog chewing something he shouldn't, don't punish him. (Really, the fault isn't his, but rather your family's for not supervising him better.) Instead, transfer his attention to a favorite chew toy and then praise him for chewing on that.
Expect that your dog's perfectly normal and healthy interest in chewing will continue until the age of 2. In fact, veterinarians have a saying about another family favorite -- the Labrador retriever -- that also applies to most all retrievers and their mixes: "Chew 'til they're 2, shed 'til they're dead."
You can't stop a dog from being a dog. Instead, you need to channel normal behavior in ways you can live with. Your family may benefit from a visit or two from a behaviorist who can help you develop strategies for dealing with canine adolescence. Ask your veterinarian for a referral. -- 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.
Fighting the cancer that's killing our dogs
-- One in four dogs dies of cancer. The Morris Animal Foundation has launched the Canine Cancer Campaign (CureCanineCancer.org), a large-scale initiative to cure cancer in dogs within the equivalent of a dog's lifetime of 10 to 20 years.
-- We love to pamper our pets, and we are increasingly speaking with our wallets. Marketing-research publisher Packaged Facts reports that premium food sales in the United States will increase to nearly $19 billion by 2010. U.S. households with annual income of at least $70,000 accounted for much of the growth -- 44 percent of the aggregate pet food expenditure, up from just 15 percent in 1994. New pet-convenience product lines (such as easy-to-serve food and self-cleaning litter boxes) grew 20 percent from 2005 to 2006.
-- Edinburgh University's veterinary school has carried out extensive research into rabies, which kills about 55,000 people worldwide per year. Its research, as reported by BBC News, suggests that rabies could be wiped out across the world within a decade if sufficient vaccination programs were carried out on domestic dogs. If village-based campaigns can reach 70 percent of the dog population, the disease cycle could be broken, leaving no threat to people or animals.
-- Speaking of the pet food recall that sickened or killed thousands of pets across the United States earlier this year, former FDA associate commissioner William Hubbard told The Washington Post: "There but for the grace of God go people. That same kind of contamination could have killed 4,000 or 5,000 people." -- Dr. Marty Becker
A little bling for the collar
Pets need to wear ID tags for safety, but sometimes a dog or cat just wants a little bling, too. Or at least, their owners do.
Big Paw Designs (BigPawDesign.com, 888-506-1409) crafts exquisite pewter charms for pet collars, bearing messages from the political ("Paws for Peace") to the defensive ("The Cat Did It") to the simply descriptive ("Couch Potato"). Although they're meant as decoration, the tags are actually sturdier than most ID tags, as are the clips and rings used to attach them. Prices start at $10.
Big Paw didn't forget the other end of the leash, either. It makes a complete line of charms, key chains, magnets and picture frames for people, too -- including some that say "Rescue Mom" and "Rescue Dad" for those whose pets came to them from shelters or the streets. You'll find it all, and more, at Big Paw Designs. -- Christie Keith
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Dealing with dogs who love to roll in stink
No one's really sure why dogs like to roll in the stinky stuff, but it's thought to be related to the natural behavior of the wild relatives of our pets.
If you catch your dog in the act of rolling in stinky matter, interrupt the behavior and then ask him to do something else, such as sitting or coming to you, so you can reward the behavior you prefer. Don't yell at your dog for rolling; remember that negative attention is still attention.
If your dog is off leash and you see him heading for some foul target and you don't think he'll come to you when called, whoop it up and run in the opposite direction to get him intrigued enough to follow. Once he is running toward you, say, "Come," praise him, and pull a treat from your pocket. Then put the leash on him until you're both far away from his intended target.
If he leaves the stench to come to you when called, ignore the recent bad behavior and praise the current good response. Generally, once a dog is already going in for a stinky landing, there is no stopping him. But if you can get his attention during the "thinking about it" phase, you might get him to avoid the stink.
Walking your dog with a head halter will make it easier to interrupt the rolling before it starts. Otherwise, be prepared for the occasional bath after the fact.
(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.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Feeding wild birds
When the weather gets cold, wild birds can use a little help, and many people are happy to oblige. (Interesting note: Households with pet birds are more likely to feed wild birds than those without pet birds -- 70 percent of bird owners also feed wild birds.) According to a 2006 survey (multiple responses allowed):
-- 52 percent of all households feed wild birds
-- 44 percent provide wild birdseed
-- 19 percent offer bread crumbs
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Making travel easier on birds
Pet birds don't routinely leave the house as often as most dogs do. But when they do travel, these avian pets need the right setup for their protection and comfort.
A sturdy hard-plastic carrier big enough for the bird to sit comfortably upright inside is ideal. If you can get a comfortable perch mounted inside, more's the better. But if not, a clean towel on the bottom of the carrier will provide both comfort and good footing for the avian occupant.
Because birds dehydrate quickly, put orange and apple slices in the carrier for snacking. These tasty fruits have a high liquid content, providing both energy and hydration for short trips. And don't forget to use your car's seat belt to secure the carrier while on the road so a sudden stop won't send your bird flying. -- 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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