Universal Press Syndicate
Cancer is the most common natural cause of death in dogs in the United States and Canada. And while the diagnosis is one that every pet lover dreads, the fact is that canine cancer is more treatable than ever before. Even better: Veterinarians now know more about what steps can be taken to help prevent the dreaded disease.
To reduce the risk of cancer in your pet:
-- Adopt a healthy dog who fits into your lifestyle. If you're considering a purebred dog, know that cancer hits some breeds more than others. Do your homework before deciding on a breed, and work with a reputable breeder who is aware of the health problems of the breed and is working to reduce those problems. Because of the breed-specific health problems in purebred dogs, some believe it's better to bring a mixed-breed into your home. (Although there's no guarantee that a mixed-breed dog won't be stricken with cancer, of course.) Shelters and rescue groups will be happy to help you find your best pet, no matter your choice.
-- Make sure your dog has good nutrition, weight-management and plenty of exercise. Help your dog to maintain a fit body for life. A fit dog will have a wasplike waist and a tucked-in abdomen.
-- Feed your dog a high-quality diet made by a reputable company or a home-prepared diet prepared with the help of your veterinarian. Start with the amount of food recommended for your dog and adjust accordingly with how your pet's body responds. Cut down on extra calories by substituting baby carrots as treats or by adding volume to meals with green beans.
-- Consider adding omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3, found in fish oils and other sources) to potentially to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Add regular exercise, and you and your dog will benefit with greater health and a closer, more vibrant relationship.
-- Spay or neuter your dog early in life. Spaying and neutering have been shown to be an effective method of preventing cancer. Spaying has a significant effect of preventing breast cancer if it is done before a dog goes into her first heat cycle.
-- Choose clean living for your dog. Eliminate exposure to environmental carcinogens such as pesticides, coal or kerosene heaters, herbicides, passive tobacco smoke, asbestos, radiation and strong electromagnetic fields. Each one of these factors has been suggested to increase the risk of cancer in your dog (and in you).
You may do everything you can and still end up with a cancer diagnosis for your pet. Don't despair. Cure rates and an improved quality of life are increasing because families are working with veterinarians to identify the disease in its initial stages and to employ new technologies that are highly effective in the early stages of cancer care.
Even for those dogs who cannot be cured, most dogs who are treated are still able to enjoy an improved, robust life. In most situations, animals undergoing cancer treatment experience limited to no decrease in their quality of life.
Almost all dogs with cancer can be helped. You can defeat the darkness of cancer with knowledge. Work with your veterinary team to learn as much about the disease and its treatment as possible. Be proactive. Ask questions and obtain resources to tear away the many misconceptions about cancer and cancer therapies. Tackling the emotional aspects of cancer can enhance your ability to think clearly, make decisions, and begin to find the hope and opportunities that lie before you as you deal with your dog's cancer.
Understand there are no wrong decisions -- only decisions that are right for you. Do not worry what other people will think about your decisions. You know your dog better than anyone else in the world. Once you are empowered with the information you need, listen to your heart and you will make the right decisions.
(Mikkel Becker contributed to this article.)
Cancer: Symptoms of disease
If you notice any of the following symptoms, don't waste any time getting your pet to your veterinarian to have the problem checked out:
1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow.
2. Sores that do not heal.
3. Weight loss.
4. Loss of appetite.
5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
6. Offensive odor.
7. Difficulty eating or swallowing.
8. Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina.
9. Persistent lameness or stiffness.
10. Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
Clumsy cat risks the knickknacks
Q: My cat is clumsy. She's constantly knocking stuff off the shelves. How can I make her stop? -- W.G., via e-mail
A: Instead of going against your cat's nature, consider moving valuable display items to glass-fronted cases that will keep your cat at bay and will still allow you to enjoy the look of your favorite collectibles.
For less valuable pieces, double-sided tape or Velcro can be used to "lock" objects in place on shelves, and can be found at any home-supply store. You can also try a product called Quake Hold, a putty that seals objects to their display surface. QuakeHold, also called Museum Putty, can be easily found from an online merchant.
An end to bad habit
Q: We adopted a shelter dog and added her to our family, which already had an established cat. We have one problem that we desperately want to end: The dog likes to eat what the cat puts in the litter box. Can you offer a solution? -- K.L., via e-mail
A: As soon as I read "new dog" and "established cat," I knew the question you were going to ask. That's how common a problem this is. Feline feces are so attractive to many dogs that in most cases the only "cure" for this disgusting habit is restricting the dog's access. Suggestions include:
-- Covered litter boxes. You can find litter boxes with lids at almost any pet-supply store, and this might fix the problem. Cats who have asthma shouldn't use them, some cats won't use them, and some dogs are strong enough (or small enough) to get to the box anyway. But for some households, a covered box will solve the problem.
-- Change the litter box location. Make any change slowly, so as not to discourage litter box use by your cat. But it doesn't hurt to experiment with such things as moving the litter box to a location above the dog's reach.
-- Provide barriers. One way is to rig the door to the room with the litter box so it stays open wide enough for the cat but not for the dog. (This is what works in my home.) Another possibility is to cut a cat-sized hole through the door to the litter box room. For a small dog able to fit through any opening a cat can, a baby gate is an alternative: The cat can jump over, but the dog cannot. You might also be able to put the box in an unused bathtub, if your dog is small enough.
Experiment with what works, and realize that punishment doesn't work when the reward is as wonderful (to your dog) as the litter box contents. This is one case in which training the people in the house to make adjustments works much better than trying to train the dog. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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.
Cats race in quick bursts
-- The average domestic cat can run at a speed of around 30 mph. Egyptian Maus are reportedly the fastest breed of domestic cat, capable of reaching 36 mph. For comparison, a thoroughbred racehorse can maintain a speed of 45 mph for more than a mile. The fastest racing greyhounds run at speeds of just under 42 mph for about a third of a mile. Cats, well, they're not marathon runners, or even middle-distance runners; they're sprinters. While you could never outrun a dog over distances, you could best a cat, as they quickly overheat when running and have to stop after just 30 to 60 seconds to rest and cool down.
-- The California-based K9 Water Co. offers canines an assortment of vitamin-enriched products with names such as Toilet Water (chicken flavor), Gutter Water (beef flavor), Puddle Water (liver flavor) and Hose Water (lamb flavor). Wonder who does the taste-testing?
-- When cats rub their heads up against you -- an affectionate activity called "bunting" -- they are actually tapping into special scent glands located on their cheeks and near the temples to mark you as belonging to them. This friendly gesture -- which is much better than being marked with urine -- could be considered the feline equivalent of a promise ring or wearing matching shirts that say "I'm with stupid!" -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Watch the tail for mood swings
Your cat's tail has a tale to tell. When your cat's tail is held straight up, she's happy to see you and wants to be greeted. Cats raise their tails like flags when they feel confident and alert. As a cat's mood drops, so does the tail.
Consider your cat's tail as her mood barometer. When your cat explores, read a high tail as bravery and a low tail as uncertainty or fear. When your kitty arches her back with a skunklike tail, she is saying, "Please pet me, now. I'm in the mood for love." As her tail lowers with waving or twitching, back off. She's getting annoyed and is putting up the "no trespassing" sign. Leave her be!
(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.)
Missing the box? May be FLUTD
Aside from routine preventive care, the No. 1 reason cats are taken to a veterinarian is for what's called feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).
Missing the litter box is a classic symptom of this serious illness. Yet many people don't recognize the fact that a cat is sick, and they sometimes resort to punishment (which not only doesn't work on a sick cat, but is also grossly unfair). Cats with FLUTD may also be observed straining or crying in pain when they urinate, and that urine can smell "different" even to the human nose.
The disease can turn up in any cat but tends to hit middle-aged, overweight pets most. Stress may also be a contributing factor, which is why the problem sometimes turns up when cats are moved to a new home or when new people or pets join the family.
Litter box problems often mean a sick cat, not a bad one. Keeping cats from becoming obese and encouraging them to drink more can help prevent problems, as can offering smaller meals and more play to relieve stress.
Cats with chronic urinary tract issues may benefit from a special diet. In any case, a veterinarian's advice can help keep a cat from contracting this top feline health problem and keep it from coming back when it does. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Rabbits multiply in popularity
When it comes to small mammals as pets, rabbits are the most popular, followed by hamsters and guinea pigs. Among those households with small mammals as pets, here's how the animals ranked in 2004 popularity (more than one answer allowed):
Rabbit 43 percent
Hamster 36 percent
Guinea pig 20 percent
Mouse/rat 8 percent
Ferret 7 percent
Gerbil 5 percent
Chinchilla 4 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON THE WEB
Feline fans have a site to learn
The Cats International Web site (www.catsinternational.org) is the home of an organization dedicated to getting out good information on feline behavior and care, to help people and cats live more happily together. The articles range from common behavior problems (house-soiling, furniture-scratching) to interesting information about cats, and are well-written and reflect the latest behavioral advice. (As for fun facts: Did you know a cat will blink when his whiskers are touched? It's an automatic response designed to protect the eyes.)
The site also offers a behavior hot line for those who'd like to discuss their pet's problems directly. Links to other sites offering cat-friendly advice and products are also provided. The well-designed site is a wonderful way to spend time learning about your cat and getting smart about fixing those feline problems that drive us cat lovers crazy. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600