By Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
Every pet lover with a computer has seen the e-mails and Web sites: the dire warnings on common household products, the miracle cures and behavior-fix products, and the well-meaning but ultimately wrong health-care advice.
The Internet can be the best or the worst place to do research on pet health issues. The trick is in figuring out how to evaluate the information you find, and how to locate the reliable information when you need it.
When you read information online, look for citations to veterinary literature and specific references to studies and clinical research. Just because something is cited in a medical journal doesn't mean it's correct or that it proves the point it's being used to support. But it's more likely to be reliable than a completely unsubstantiated statement.
We don't always have the luxury of waiting for double-blind studies in peer-reviewed journals to be published. The 2007 pet food recall was one such example: Pet owners had to make decisions based on very little information, coming at them from a wide variety of sources.
In situations like that, pet owners have to use other criteria to decide if a source is credible or not. For example, has this been a reliable source of information in the past on other issues? Is the reporting sensationalistic or overly cautious? Do the people involved with the Web site have any financial or professional affiliations that might make them less than objective about the issues? Do they have passionate agendas about health, nutrition or other issues that might also compromise their objectivity?
Watch out for all-or-nothing statements praising or condemning a specific drug, procedure, therapy or approach to health. A treatment that's right for one animal may be wrong for another.
There is a lot of information on the Internet, and a lot of it is well-organized, searchable and well-written -- yet totally wrong. However, usually if a site is badly spelled and punctuated, not easily searched, not well-organized and hard to navigate, the information is less likely to be reliable. Although there are exceptions, as a general rule: If someone is dedicated to providing well-substantiated information, they'll probably be highly motivated to make sure it's well-presented, too.
Press releases and point-of-sale "articles" are never a good place to get health information for your pets. Get your information from someone who isn't going to make -- or lose -- money as a result of your buying decisions.
One other tip: Testimonials are not evidence, proof or documentation. They are advertising. Ignore them.
Where do you start in the search for reliable pet health information online? Start with a careful search. Begin by typing in the name of the condition or disease (and spell it correctly!), and then add the species of your pet. For instance, "struvites stones dogs" (without the quotation marks) is a better search than just "stones."
The average pet owner looking for information online needs to walk a fine line, but not an impossible one. Just try to have both an open mind and a slightly skeptical one, and try to use a variety of sources instead of relying on only one.
And then discuss what you find with your own trusted veterinarian, to make sure the recommendations are appropriate and helpful for your own pet.
(Christie Keith is a Pet Connection contributing editor.)
Pet-care sites worth visiting often
Although many sites offer good information for pet lovers, here are a couple that really stand out:
-- VeterinaryPartner (VeterinaryPartner.com): The information here is medically solid and, because the site is owned by the Veterinary Information Network (a Web service for veterinarians), it's a bit more on the cutting-edge than many other mainstream pet health sites.
-- AltVetMed (AltVetMed.org): Founded in 1996 by holistic veterinarians Drs. Jan Bergeron and Susan Wynn, AltVetMed hosts a wide assortment of articles on complementary and alternative veterinary medicine, and some good information on conventional medicine as well.
-- Cornell Feline Health Center (www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc): Established by the late Dr. James Richards, Cornell University's feline health Web site, and the center in New York that operates it, is an unparalleled resource for cat owners, and the information you'll find there is eminently trustworthy and frequently cutting-edge.
-- DogAware.com (DogAware.com): Site owner Mary Straus is a researcher and writer for the Whole Dog Journal, and she has exhaustively assembled information on canine nutrition as well as a variety of health issues including arthritis and kidney disease. -- Christie Keith
Why would a dog turn on owner?
Q: A couple of years ago, I adopted a 7-week-old dachshund mix. One night while lying beside him on a rug in our den, he attacked my face. Our veterinarian suggested he be put to sleep, which is what we did. I still love and miss him all the time. What could have made him turn on me? He was absolutely crazy about me. Any insight? -- J.H., via e-mail
A:. It is natural for you to grieve your loss.
You adopted a puppy in the middle of a critical socialization period. We don't know if your puppy attended socialization classes, puppy day care, or went through any other deliberate "schooling" in those early weeks. We do know that, one way or the other, he learned how to get your attention and what response to expect when he communicated what he wanted in canine language. Our guess is that he expected to get most everything he asked of you.
We love these little guys so much that we tend to cater to their cute ways. When our dogs look at us in a certain way or nudge us, we respond by giving what we think they want -- petting, food, play, a walk or even backing off. It's normal for a dog to believe under these circumstances that he controls the people who serve him.
The problem comes when the owner inadvertently does not follow a "canine command." Dogs may or may not growl before they bite. Instead, they may warn us by using body language such as freezing or tensing up -- a sign that people often miss.
You did not mention whether or not your dog had food, a toy or some kind of chew at the time he lunged at your face. Without seeing his body language and yours, and without knowing many more details about your everyday interactions, it is impossible to say exactly why he attacked you. (Medical problems or even mental health issues can also be at the root of canine aggression.)
If a dog feels control over his environment and his people, he is more likely to respond aggressively to enforce that control. So if your dog thought it was possible you were going to take away an object or even pet him without his permission, and if he tried to warn you by tensing up and you didn't understand his body language, then escalating to a lunge would be normal canine behavior.
If you decide to get another puppy, ask your veterinarian to refer you to puppy classes to help you learn how to raise a dog in ways to help prevent the development of canine aggression. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Nothing's too good for our pets
-- Pet owners are strongly attached to their pets and spend plenty on them, according to a survey in Veterinary Economics magazine. In a survey conducted by BN research on behalf of Banfield, The Pet Hospital, 68 percent of pet owners said they'd hire a pet sitter, and 48 percent said they'd spend any amount to keep their pet healthy. Other results: 42 percent buy gifts for their pets, 29 percent always carry or display photos of a pet, and 9 percent chose a vehicle based on the needs of a pet.
-- The canine distemper virus (CDV) can jump across species and infect and cause mass mortalities in wild carnivores such as lions, African wild dogs and several types of seals. CDV is in the same family of viruses as measles.
-- The Poop Pouch is a specially designed pouch that attaches to your dog's leash with Velcro and allows you to carry and hide your dog's poop out of sight. With a vinyl interior, the product is machine washable, comes in many designs and even has matching bandanas. Check out Pooppouch.net.
-- Progressive Auto Insurance, the nation's third-largest auto insurance group, has introduced a coverage option that allows customers to insure any canine or feline pets injured or killed in a vehicle crash. The coverage is being offered at no additional charge to customers who have standard collision coverage. -- Dr. Marty Becker
[Put ABOUT under PET BUZZ]
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.
Declawing cats: Consider other options
If any one topic is sure to produce a heated discussion among cat lovers, it's declawing. The procedure is widely performed to end destructive scratching and is just as widely vilified as cruelty.
Declawing is the surgical amputation under general anesthesia of the last part of the toe, comparable to the removal of your fingertip at the first joint. The skin is glued or stitched over the exposed joint, the feet bandaged and the cat sent home to heal. In most cases, only the front claws are removed.
Although the procedure can be a successful way to curb destructive behavior, those who advocate against it argue that declawing is too often performed without even trying to train a cat, or is considered as a pre-emptive strike against furniture damage before a problem is even evident.
Scratching is natural and satisfying for cats, and you owe your pet the effort to teach him to scratch in appropriate places before you opt to declaw him. Frequent trimming of the nail tips can also reduce the destruction, as can glued-on nail caps, although both options do take ongoing work from the cat owner to maintain.
Declawing is perhaps best reserved as an option that should be considered when all others have failed and the cat is facing abandonment or euthanasia.
If you do choose to declaw your cat, you must keep him inside forever, because without his claws, he's less able to defend himself against dogs and other dangers. He can't swat with claws and has a harder time climbing to safety if attacked. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
How big's your bag?
Buying in bulk is a time-honored strategy when it comes to making the pet-supply budget go further, and one that's quite popular with dog lovers, especially those with big dogs. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, here's how bag sizes for dry dog food rank in popularity at the cash register:
5 pounds or less: 10 percent
6-10 pounds: 13 percent
11-20 pounds: 22 percent
20-40 pounds: 26 percent
40-plus pounds: 23 percent
Don't buy dry: 3 percent
No answer: 3 percent
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Training should be fun
Young puppies should think of training as a fun game. Just as with a human child, motivation is key, especially when food treats are phased out. You want a puppy who enjoys learning from you for life. Once motivation is gone, it's difficult to get it back.
For this reason, before 4 months of age, build confidence and a positive attitude by avoiding corrections that may discourage your puppy and turn her off to training sessions. Use food lures and praise to shape new behaviors and set your puppy up for success.
Save corrections for when your puppy reaches adolescence -- testing limits and zoning out like a hormonal human teen. Then use words she knows, such as "sit," in a firm, insistent tone.
(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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