Universal Press Syndicate
Study after study shows that people are not only crazy about pets, but they also love to spend money on them. We're certainly not arguing against buying that perfect dog collar or cat toy, but we do want you to know that you don't have to buy a lot of things for your pets to care for them well.
In fact, some of the best gifts you can give your pet don't cost any money at all -- your attention. In the Valentine's Day spirit of giving the best to those we love, we offer a few suggestions that will make you and your pet happier and healthier -- and may even save you money in the long run.
-- The gift of health. Preventive veterinary care can spare your pet from suffering and may also catch little problems before they become life-threatening (and expensive). Develop a healthy relationship with your pet's veterinarian, starting with regular "well-pet" examinations. These visits are no longer about "shots" -- most vaccinations are no longer recommended on an annual basis -- but rather about catching and correcting problems as they develop.
A dental examination is part of that well-pet visit, and follow-up preventive care may require a dental cleaning under anesthesia. A healthy mouth not only keeps your pet free of pain -- imagine eating with rotting teeth and infected gums -- but also spares your pet's internal organs from struggling to combat the shower of bacteria from an infected mouth.
-- The gift of fitness. By now we've all read the news that pets have their own obesity crisis. The reasons are similar to ours -- too much food and not enough exercise. But pets can't open the refrigerator on their own or hit the drive-through: They need our help to get fat.
Cut back on the treats, and get your pet moving. You can use your dog's enthusiasm for a daily walk to help get yourself in shape, too, which is the message of "Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together" (Three Rivers Press, $14), Dr. Becker's book with human physician Dr. Robert Kushner.
-- The gift of time. Many pets spend most of their lives alone, while our busy lives keep us from home. While much of this alone time is unavoidable -- someone has to work for food and shelter, right? -- some simple changes will give you more time with your pet.
Skip some of your TV or computer time, and play fetch with your dog or get out the laser pointer for your cat. Look for opportunities to include your dog on family outings.
-- The gift of training. A well-trained pet has a better, closer relationship with his owner, because they speak a common language and spend more time together. If your pet has behavior problems -- from house-training to aggression, from leash-pulling to furniture-destruction -- ask your veterinarian for a referral to a local trainer or behaviorist.
-- The gift of safety. Be sure your home offers a safe, secure environment for your pet. Inside the house, garage and basement, keep cleaning supplies and other troublesome household chemicals out of reach, and clean up spills promptly. Cats are drawn to warm spots, so make sure to keep the door on your clothes dryer shut. Choose plants inside and out that aren't toxic. Finally, because your pet can become lost even with the most careful prevention, be sure your pet has a collar with current ID, and a microchip as a backup.
Got all the basics covered? Good for you! You can now celebrate by going out and buying your pet something special, just because. Happy Valentine's Day!
Got a story to tell?
Pet Connection's Dr. Becker and Gina Spadafori are working on a new series for the publisher of the best-selling "Chicken Soup" books -- and they're looking for stories and photographs from readers. You don't have to be a professional writer or photographer, or even a published one. You just have to have a story to tell, or a great picture of cats, dogs or horses to inspire other animal lovers.
The deadline for submissions is March 15, with the Ultimate Pet Lover books coming out in the fall. For more information or to submit stories or photographs, visit TheUltimatePetLover.com.
Making up for a puppy error
Q: Yikes! I brought home my basset hound puppy at 5 weeks of age. I was not aware that this is too early until I read your column. One problem I am noticing is that she prefers to chew on my hands rather than on her toys. I am discouraging this behavior, but now I am concerned that she will not outgrow it because I separated her from the litter at such a young age. She is mine now, so what other problems can I anticipate and how do I correct them? -- S.K., via e-mail
A: No reputable, knowledgeable breeder would have sold you a puppy this young. Pet experts have known for decades the importance of leaving a puppy with littermates at least until the age of 7 weeks, so the babies can learn critical socialization skills from each other. Puppies who are denied that extra time with mom and siblings may never fully understand the importance of keeping teeth to themselves and the nuances of body language so important to a well-mannered dog.
I'm happy you're committed to your puppy now, even though her start in life was not ideal. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist who can help you work with your puppy on bite inhibition and socialization.
When your puppy starts chewing on you, say "ouch" in a loud, high-pitched tone and immediately switch your puppy over to a chew toy. Praise her when she takes the substitute item. Never let your puppy play with your hands or any part of your body (clothes count, too!). When teeth touch skin, there should be one message: Game over.
Use toys to engage your youngster, allowing her to learn that toys are acceptable to chew on, always. (This will also help spare your shoes from being chewed.)
Look for places with lots of people but few, if any, other dogs to socialize your young puppy before all her vaccinations are complete.
Keep lots of treats, and encourage strangers to give them to her gently. Sign up for a puppy-socialization class for you and her to start immediately after her vaccinations are complete. These often have supervised puppy playtimes to help her learn to interact properly with other dogs.
An excellent resource for raising a well-socialized, well-mannered puppy is the Ultimate Puppy Tool Kit (www.urbanpuppy.com, $18). The kit provides a poster of puppy development along with week-by-week details of what a youngster needs to know at every stage.
By the way, few puppy problems are "outgrown" -- they almost always take time, training and patience to resolve, no matter where your puppy comes from. -- 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.
Many pets like their beds warm
Looking for a way to convince your pet that your bed isn't the best in the house? Try a heated pet bed.
Older pets will especially appreciate the warmth of a heated bed in cold weather. And while dogs may like the heat only in the winter, many cats enjoy warmth all year around. A wide selection of heated beds and heating elements is available from pet-product retailers.
Many manufacturers offer inserts into beds you already have. The Snuggle Safe ($30) is meant to be microwaved and will provide warmth for hours. Petmate offers add-on heating elements with PVC coating and chew-resistance cords to provide a nonstop 102 degrees of warmth.
Petmate also offers a line of attractive, heated beds in both pillow and round-cup designs, with coverings to match any decor. Pet-bed mainstays such as Orvis also offer heated beds as part of their product line. Prices vary with size and covering. -- Gina Spadafori
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Kitten-proof home before new arrival
Proper preparation of your home before you get a kitten can get your pet off to a great start.
Start with a litter box that is not too big for a kitten to get into. Make sure window screens are secure and that household cleaning products, houseplants, strings and other potentially dangerous objects are out of your kitten's reach.
Select the tallest scratching post you can find, preferably with a climbing and resting area on top, so your cat can stretch, groom his claws and perch himself off the ground. Keep all these items and your kitten in one room for a couple of weeks to lower kitten stress, control safety and prevent behaviors you don't want in an adult cat.
(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)
'Fifteen Legs' shares stories of animal rescue
Animal shelters and rescue groups may seem unlikely places for a revolution, but that's exactly what's happening today -- on two fronts.
One area of change is in the conflict over the policies, procedures and philosophy of traditional animal shelters that use killing to address the surplus of pets in a given area. As if to prove the point of "no-kill" advocates that nearly every animal can find a home somewhere, the other revolution is in the growth of loosely affiliated networks of volunteer animal lovers working to move pets hundreds and even thousands of miles to find them good homes.
Bonnie Silva's "Fifteen Legs" (Riverbank Press, $23) is the story of the people who make up the chain of drivers, truckers, pilots and overnight foster homes providing a chance for animals who would otherwise be killed. Those people, writes Silva, "have made conscious decisions to move beyond the bleak details in favor of doing something, no matter how small, to alleviate animal homelessness wherever they may find it."
Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs -- even a turkey -- have made the rides documented by Silva. Are the local shelters full of small dogs no one wants? Move them to a region where toy breeds fill the adoption waiting lists. No qualified pit bull rescue in the state? There may be responsible adoption groups a thousand miles away. Local animal control getting pounded by a recent raid on a cat hoarder? Animal transport volunteers can find help for those cats, too.
Despite -- and sometimes in defiance of -- the conventional wisdom that shelters are overflowing because people don't care enough about animals, these dedicated transporters prove just how much people do care and exactly how far (literally) they're willing to go to help. -- Christie Keith
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Snoopy would be so proud
The Labrador retriever repeats as the American Kennel Club's top breed, according to the group's 2007 registration numbers. The bulldog (both English-style and French) made impressive gains with the English-style bulldog jumping into the top 10 for the first time in decades. But if you want to talk consistency, consider the beagle, the only breed included in the top 10 list since 1915. Beagles also reigned as the most popular breed from 1954 to 1959.
Here's the top 10 for 2007, for AKC registrations:
1. Labrador retriever
2. Yorkshire terrier
3. German shepherd
4. Golden retriever
9. Shih tzu
A bite can be an emergency
Accidents can happen even to the cautious. One disaster that's all too common in a multipet household is a biting incident between a predatory animal (cat or dog) and a prey one (bird, hamster, rabbit). A bite is a genuine medical emergency, even if the pet who has been bitten seems fine afterward.
Dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths that can develop into a deadly infection in a bird or other prey animal. For many of these, a prompt trip to a veterinarian and a course of antibiotics will mean the difference between life and death. Nights, weekends -- no matter when it happens -- a bitten bird or rabbit needs help, fast.
Never assume your dog or cat won't bite your rabbit or bird. The prey-predator wiring can be very difficult to short-circuit. Keep these pets safely apart at all times. -- 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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