Universal Press Syndicate
Spend any time at a veterinary emergency hospital and you'll see that some people who bring their pets in didn't need to -- the condition was minor and could have waited until morning.
But then you worry about the people you don't see: those who don't recognize a truly life-threatening illness in their pets. Will those pets make it until morning? And how much suffering will they endure until then?
A really sick pet may be pretty obvious, as with an animal who has been in a bloody fight or has broken bones after being hit by a car. But not all medical emergencies are as obvious, so how can you tell the difference?
First and foremost: Call your veterinarian (or an emergency veterinary clinic if it's after hours). It's better to make a call, or even a trip, you needn't have made than to put your pet's life at risk. Normal findings and peace of mind are, as they say, "priceless."
Otherwise, taking your "ain't doing right" pet's temperature is a good place to start figuring out if more help is needed. Normal is between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit for dogs and cats. Anything below 99 or above 103 is worth checking with a veterinarian, day or night.
Some other "see the vet now" indicators include seizure, fainting or collapse, as well as any suspected poisoning (including antifreeze, rodent poison, snail bait or human medication). Snake or spider bites, too, demand immediate attention. Cats in particular can be fatally sensitive to insecticides (such as flea-control medications that are safe for dogs), petroleum-based products or medications such as Tylenol.
Sometimes situations that might not seem urgent really are, such as eye injuries or allergic reactions -- swelling around the face or hives. A single incident of vomiting or diarrhea is probably nothing, but anything more than two or three times within an hour or so could indicate a serious problem. Other signs of possibly serious conditions are breathing problems, chronic coughing or difficulties urinating or defecating, the latter especially in cats.
Animals can sometimes seem fine after accidents, even after being hit by a car, exposed to extreme heat or cold, or being cut or bitten. Even if your pet looks OK, you need to take him to a veterinarian right away to check for internal injuries that can kill if left untreated.
There are also situations that may not be life-threatening but are certainly painful enough to warrant immediate veterinary attention. Some of the signs of an animal in pain include panting, labored breathing, lethargy or restlessness, loss of appetite, aggression, hiding or crying out.
While it may be possible to wait until your regular veterinarian is available when the problem is "only" pain, put yourself in your pet's place. Would you want to hurt all night if you could get relief sooner?
Of course not, so we're back to the first point: When in doubt, call the vet.
Have first-aid supplies ready
Preparing for an emergency is always good advice.
The first step: Program your veterinarian's phone number into your cell phone under VetE (for veterinarian emergency).
Next: Assemble a first-aid kit.
Basic supplies include: adhesive tape, antihistamines (such as Benadryl), antiseptic (such as Betadine), cotton (balls, swabs and rolls), corn starch or styptic powder (such as Kwik Stop), Karo syrup, tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, scissors, sterile gauze (pads and rolls), pet thermometer, antibiotic ointment, anti-diarrheal (such as Pepto-Bismol), clear plastic cling wrap (such as Saran Wrap), activated charcoal and a water-based lubricating jelly (such as K-Y). Add a soft fabric muzzle (for dogs) or a restraint bag (for cats), since an animal in pain may lash out.
You can buy a ready-made kit from a pet retailer. Hunting-dog outfitters, such as Gun Dog Supply (www.gundogsupply.com), have extensive selections of kits in durable containers -- no surprise, since an injury to a working dog may happen far away from a veterinarian.
Finally, remember the Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared." Check locally for pet first-aid and CPR classes to take before you need them. And read up. Amy Shojai's "The First-Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats" (Rodale Books, $20) is one of the best books on pet first aid around.--– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Is acupuncture legit for pets?
Q: Our veterinarian hired a new associate, and she's really pushing "alternative" care, especially acupuncture. It seems a bit woo-woo to us. Is there anything wrong with sticking to good old-fashioned medicine? -- I.R., via e-mail
A: If you're talking old-fashioned, there's no doubt acupuncture would qualify. It has been practiced for centuries.
"Alternative" or "integrative" care is hot in human medicine and, not surprisingly, in veterinary medicine as well. Lumped under the term "alternative" is a wide range of treatment options, from acupuncture to chiropractic to homeopathy to herbal medicine.
The whole patient is generally the focus, rather than the specific disease. "Western" medicine does better with acute illness, such as a bacterial infection, or with trauma, such as a broken leg. Alternative medicine's strength is often in dealing with more chronic conditions, such as arthritis.
Some veterinarians originally trained in Western medicine have furthered their study and now practice alternative care exclusively. Many others accept elements of alternative care as a complement to Western medicine. For my own pets, especially the seniors, I have had good results over the last few years with this "integrative" approach -- mixing the best of Western practice with alternative care, primarily acupuncture.
As I mentioned, some alternative treatments have been practiced for centuries, with good results. But I also see advertisements for "miracle herbs" that seem to be little more than snake oil, taking advantage of a pet lover's emotions. As always, work with your veterinarian (Western or alternative), ask what the benefits and risks are to any treatment, and do your own independent research to help you make sound decisions on your pet's care. -- 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.
Save a yard: Let dog dig
-- Digging pits are a good idea, says Cheryl Smith, dog trainer and author of "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" (Dogwise, $20). She says that many dogs, such as terriers, love to dig, so feed the need. Make the pit twice as long as your dog and at least as wide as your dog is long. Fill it with at least a foot of loose sand and dirt, and hide some tasty treats to get the digging started. Praise for a job "well dug." Smith also suggests making a dog tunnel. Cover a good-sized pipe with dirt, creating a mound but leaving the ends open. Your dog will either run through the tunnel playing chase or will take cover in the tunnel on a hot day.
-- Louisiana's recent ban on cockfighting makes this cruel practice illegal in all 50 states.
-- More than half of current asthma cases in the United States are the result of allergies, especially to cats, according to a National Institutes of Health study. Cat allergens were found to account for 29.3 percent of asthma cases, followed by fungus and white oaks.
-- Which animal has the greatest sex drive? Esquire magazine says generally the more social the species, the more likely it is to have sex for reasons other than just reproduction. Mother Nature's high achievers, sexually speaking, include pygmy chimpanzees and dolphins.
-- Car tires patterned after the toe pads of tree frogs are in production, reports Science magazine. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Cats need more variety
Cats may become fixated on certain food shapes and textures, not accepting anything unfamiliar as food. When cats will eat only certain textures and tastes of food, they suffer if put on special diets or if a favorite brand becomes unavailable. And good luck trying to trick the food-fixated cat by hiding pills!
Avoid the problem by feeding kittens and cats a variety of foods. Introduce new foods by hand when the kitten or cat is very hungry. Mix a small amount of new food in with favorites to encourage acceptance.
Feed kittens and cats a wide selection of foods in various flavors, sizes, textures and shapes. Vary treats and flavors to keep your feline flexible in the food department.
(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.)
Every pet needs a safe way to travel
Few things are more important to your pet's comfort and safety than having a sturdy travel carrier. This is especially true for cats and smaller pets such as parrots, ferrets and rabbits. But it's also true for large dogs, who may seem just fine on a leash.
The reason? In a disaster, the pet who travels with his own "hotel room" is easier to deal with than one hanging out at the end of a leash.
I have always had all kinds of carriers, both in my van and in my home, where I can grab one in an emergency. When I travel with a smaller pet (such as my cat) on an airplane, I prefer to use a soft-sided carrier, such as the Sturdi (www.sturdiproducts.com). The flexible ribbing makes it possible to put the carrier under the plane's seat while still leaving as much room as possible for a pet.
For most all other uses, though, I prefer rigid carriers made of wire (from Precision, www.precisionpet.com, or Midwest, www.midwesthomesforpets.com) or hard plastic. Petmate (www.petmate.com) has long been the industry standard in hard-plastic carriers, and its large product line has something for every pet. With my big dogs, I use both wire crates and hard plastic ones, from all three companies.
For my cat, though, I prefer the Double Door Deluxe (small size is $30) from Petmate, which offers two ways to get pets into and out of the carrier. The Double Door carrier is also handy for when either my rabbit or parrot needs to see the vet. And for these animals, having their choice of doors makes what can be a stressful time for all just a little bit easier. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
There's nothing some dogs won't chew
If you've ever been embarrassed by your underwear-munching dog, take heart: You're not alone. The Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. surveyed its claims and came up with a list of the top items that had to be surgically removed from pets. Underwear was No. 2. Here's the list of the top 10:
6. Chew Toys
9. Hair Ties/Ribbons
Proper handling keeps parrots tame
Altitude has a lot to do with attitude, at least when it comes to parrots. Pet parrots who see themselves as dominant to their owners can often be retrained just by getting their height adjusted.
The rule is known among behaviorists as "your head, my heart" and requires you to keep your bird's head no higher than your heart. That means canceling shoulder rides in favor of letting your bird perch on your waist-level arm or hand. It also means removing cage-top play gyms and lowering the height of the cage itself by removing the stand on which most models rest.
When your bird no longer looks down on you physically, he won't be as likely to look down on you socially. You'll then be in a better position to train him in the basics of well-mannered behavior. -- 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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