Universal Press Syndicate
The best way to save your pet from an accidental poisoning is to know what items are poisonous and to keep them from your pet's reach.
What do you need to know? We touched base with Dr. Steven Hansen of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center -- which handled more than 135,000 pet-poisoning cases in 2007 alone -- to find out what you need to know.
Some poisonings are a result of something an animal gets into, like a household product. But a surprising number of cases come from something intentionally given to an animal by the owner who's trying to help. The classic example of the latter is when an elderly cat is given an extra-strength acetaminophen for arthritis. The owner is trying to help, but unfortunately even one capsule of this common human medicine can kill a cat.
Dogs can figure out their way into trouble that their owners never envisioned. This includes opening cabinets to get cleaning products and counter-surfing to reach food items and pill vials. You need to realize that pets are basically like toddlers who can open any child-proof container, and you should take similar precautions:
-- Keep products such as medications, harmful foods and cleaning products in a secure cabinet above countertop height.
-- Use a kitchen garbage can with a lid.
-- Always read labels, especially on flea and tick products, and on lawn and garden products. Store out of reach in a high cupboard, not under the sink.
-- Be familiar with the plants in and around your home, and have only nontoxic plants.
-- Never give any medication or supplement to your pet unless recommended or approved by your veterinarian.
Many toxic substances aren't well-known to dog owners. For example, don't let your dog have significant amounts of raisins or grapes, macadamia nuts, moldy cheese, chocolate, onions, garlic or xylitol-sweetened gum and other candies or baked items.
Once the preventive measures are in place, you need to know the signs of poisoning. Many (but not all) substances first cause stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. It's not fun, but vomit must be examined for evidence of chewed packaging, plant, food, pill or other important clues. Many poisonings progress to weakness and depression or nervous stimulation, including tremors and seizures. Pets may stop eating and drinking, or may drink excessive amounts, which could suggest liver or kidney involvement. Rapid or slow breathing, with changes in tongue and gum color -- from pink to white, blue or brown -- is important.
If you suspect poisoning, stay calm. Panicking will not help your pet and may waste precious time. If your pet is not showing any serious signs of illness described above, contact your regular veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) to determine if your pet needs to be seen, or if treatment can be given at home.
If your pet is having difficulty breathing, is having seizures, is bleeding or is unconscious, go to your regular veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately. Take any evidence including chewed containers and labels and even vomit. This information is key to helping your veterinarian save your pet.
Be sure you always have the numbers of your pet's regular veterinarian, your local veterinary emergency clinic and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. It could save your pet's life.
Do you know the top toxins?
The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) lists the top reasons pet owners called it in 2007, in order of the number of cases handled. Some represent serious concerns, while others result from common, but not deadly, encounters:
1. Drugs meant for humans, both prescription and over-the-counter.
2. Pesticides, including poisons meant to kill bugs, rodents and weeds.
3. Foods, including chocolate (chocolate accounted for about half of all food cases).
4. Biological hazards, primarily toxic plants.
5. Veterinary drugs.
6. Cleaning products.
7. Chemical hazards, such as acids, bases, alcohols and gases.
8. Metals, such as lead, zinc and mercury.
9. Cosmetics and personal-care items, such as hair dye, hair relaxant or perms, oral care or skin-care products.
10. General household hazards, such as batteries for electronics, matches, silica gel, ice melters, matches and air fresheners.
Not-so-honorable mention goes to home-improvement and hobby supplies, such as paint and adhesives.
Redirecting nips of a playful pup
Q: We got a Christmas puppy, a yellow Labrador retriever. Our friends bred their Lab once, and we wanted a puppy, so this seemed perfect. Our puppy's mother is fantastic with kids, and we wanted a dog just like that.
The problem is that our puppy is kinda bratty. We're going to take her to training classes now that the weather is better, and we know we have work to do. We'll do it. We love our puppy, and we're working through it together.
The one thing we really need help with right away, though, is her nipping. She will not stop mouthing everything, and the kids are now afraid of being chewed on by her. She's not mean, just mouthy. How can we get her to stop this? Or will she just outgrow it? -- W.P., via e-mail
A: If you watch a litter of puppies play with each other, you might be surprised at how rough they can be. As puppies grow older, they learn from their littermates and their mother how to restrain those playful bites.
These lessons are important in the development of a well-mannered pet, which is why experts say puppies should stay with their littermates until at least the age of 7 weeks.
If you end up with a pup who missed the crucial lessons taught by her siblings, or if your puppy is naturally nippy (many retrievers and retriever mixes, for example, are very "mouthy" as puppies), all is not lost.
Teach your puppy to keep her teeth to herself by attacking the problem from a couple of different directions. The first would be to redirect the behavior. Clap your hands to startle the pup into stopping the nipping, and then give your puppy a toy to chew on instead. Don't forget to praise her for chewing on something that's not a family member.
Even as you're teaching the puppy what's OK to mouth, teach her how to leave family members unchewed by making the nipping unrewarding. Every time the puppy nips, dramatically cry "ouch" and immediately stop the play session. Fold your arms, turn away and ignore the puppy completely.
The message to get across: Play stops when nipping starts. If you're persistent and consistent, your puppy will get the message. It will also help if you make sure she's getting plenty of exercise, because sometimes dogs who don't get enough physical activity get too excited when they're finally offered the chance to play.
If the behavior doesn't show any sign of easing, or if the biting seems more aggressive than playful, don't delay in asking your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer. -- 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.
Pets another reason to wash your hands
-- People struggling to get rid of recurrent staph infections might want to consider an overlooked source: the family pet. Dr. Neil Fishman of the Infectious Diseases Society of America told The Associated Press that while staph is rare and is more of a problem in people with weak immune systems, everyone should wash up after handling pets.
-- A gene that determines a dog's coat color may help scientists learn why people are thin or fat, or why they cope differently with stress. An article in Veterinary Economics mentioned that Stanford University researchers now say a gene that produces yellow and black fur in dogs also makes the "beta defensin" protein. Dogs and people have similar beta defensin-producing genes, and this protein determines canine-stress adaptation and weight regulation. If beta defensin proteins work similarly in people, new drugs and treatments for weight and stress management could result.
-- California law now lets victims of domestic violence name their pets in restraining orders against their abusers. The bill's sponsor said up to 40 percent of domestic violence victims don't leave their abusers because they worry about their pets.
-- If you fear your home has turned into the newest location of Bedbugs & Beyond, you might want to call on specially trained dogs who track down tiny bedbugs and their eggs, helping exterminators target spraying. The bedbug-sniffing dogs start around $200 per hour. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Teach your cat to scratch appropriately
Scratching is natural, normal and satisfying behavior for a cat that is best accommodated by training your pet to use a scratching post or cat tree.
The post or tree must be stable enough for your cat to climb and pull on, and should be covered with material your cat can dig her claws into, such as sisal.
Because clawing is also a territory marker, move the cat tree into a prominent place, such as near that clawed corner of the couch. Praise your cat for using the post instead. Move the post slowly -- a few inches a day -- to a place more to your taste after your cat is using it reliably.
Encourage your cat to use the scratching post by teasing her with a cat toy and praising her for digging in her claws. If your cat enjoys catnip, rub some on the post to encourage her to spend more time there, and give her treats for being on the cat tree as well.
Make the areas you don't want your pet to touch less appealing during the retraining process by covering them with foil, plastic sheeting or plastic carpet runners with the pointy side out. Use double-sided tape generously as well -- cats hate the feel of sticky stuff under their paws.
If you catch your cat clawing, squirt her with a spray bottle. Try to stay out of sight whenever you do so and don't lose your temper. Remember: The idea is to get the cat to believe that the furniture itself is doing the disciplining.
Yes, your house is going to look pretty ugly for a while, with cat deterrents all over the furniture and a cat tree in the middle of the room. You must live with it until your cat's new pattern of clawing where acceptable is established. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Fewer vet visits for cats
Cats may be the top pet in the United States and Canada, but they're not tops when it come to veterinary care:
Number of dogs: 72.1 million
Number of cats: 81.7 million
Annual average of vet visits per year:
Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
Freezer veggies great for birds
Avian veterinarians say parrots do well on a diet of pellets, combined with a daily helping of fresh vegetables and fruits. There's an easy way to make providing vegetables easier for the cooking-impaired: Use frozen mixed vegetables.
Bags of vegetable mixes with corn, peas, beans and carrots are easy to find and easy to store. And it takes only a short spell in the microwave to bring them up to room temperature. (Put your finger in the bowl to make sure there are no "hot spots.")
Fresh fruits and veggies are always ideal for parrots, along with a good mix of other healthy "people foods" -- pasta, cereals, bread and more. But in a pinch, reach into the freezer. Little shopping, no chopping and no rotting veggies in the refrigerator -- what could be better? -- 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.
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