Do you secure your pets when they're riding in the car?
While most cats travel safely in carriers when they travel at all, the question typically draws an uneasy look and an uncomfortable response from even the most conscientious and well-meaning of dog lovers.
The truth is that most dog lovers -- including those who wouldn't think of leaving home without first securing themselves and their children with a seat belt -- don't provide the same protection for their dogs.
The results can be tragic. Unrestrained pets cause more than 30,000 accidents annually, according to the American Automobile Association, injuries and even fatalities that could in many cases have been avoided with the use of a restraint or carrier.
"It's beneficial to both people and pets to have animals properly restrained in a car -- either with a commercial restraint device or in a carrier," said Dr. Tony Johnson, emergency department director at VCA Indiana Veterinary Specialists in Indianapolis. "I have seen several dramatic and heartbreaking cases where dogs jumped out of a vehicle and suffered severe injuries."
Grant Biniaz of the pet health insurance provider VPI agrees.
"Injuries can be sustained during an accident, or even when slamming on the brakes," he said. "We also see many cases where unrestrained dogs have been injured jumping out of an open window if they see something interesting -- like another dog or a squirrel -- outside of the car."
But it's not just about safety for pets. Restraining your dog while you're on the road protects people as well. Secured pets won't be the reason for a driver's distraction. In the case of an accident, a secured pet won't be flying loose in the vehicle, increasing the likelihood and severity of injuries to all.
"In a 30 mph accident, a 60-pound dog can cause an impact of more than 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, windshield or other passengers," said Christina Selter, founder of Bark Buckle Up, an organization dedicated to teaching pet owners about the importance of securing their pets while traveling.
"And if the animal survives and gets loose, it can run into traffic or impede the progress of emergency crews arriving on the scene."
There are many varieties of restraints, including harnesses that hook into the seat-belt systems, carriers and crates that keep pets protected and barriers to keep animals in the back, away from drivers. In fact, one auto manufacturer, Volvo, has made dog safety such a priority that the Swedish automaker has introduced its own line of pet barriers that fit into some of its more dog-friendly models. And several other automakers are reportedly following suit.
No matter what type of restraint you choose, the key is to introduce it to your pet as early as possible, said VPI's Biniaz.
"It is very difficult to train an older dog to wear a restraint in a car," said Biniaz. "Pet owners should acclimate their pets to restraints from a young age."
The importance of pet car safety is perhaps best summed up by Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim, Calif., police department, who has seen firsthand the tragic consequences of unrestrained pets in vehicles.
"We all want to spoil our pets," said Martinez. "The best thing you can do for your dog is to buckle them up in your car. In case of an accident, it will save their life and greatly enhance the abilities of first responders to take car of other occupants."
(Keith Turner is editor of the Pet Connection's DogCars.com Web site, which has more information on products for safer and more convenient travel with pets.)
No need to breed with kittens galore
Q: I want to breed my cat, and I would like to get papers on her so I can sell the kittens for more. How can I figure out what breed she is? She is black overall, and her stomach, chest, chin and paws are white. She's very pretty! -- C.S., via e-mail
A: The overwhelming majority of cats aren't any "breed" at all. Most cats are what veterinarians call "domestic shorthair" (DSH) or "domestic longhair" (DLH); in earlier times they would have been called "alley cats." These cats are purely random-bred, and any number of coat patterns can be a result, even some that resemble those of purebreds. To make things even more interesting: It's not uncommon for a litter of kittens to have more than one father!
"DSH" and "DLH" sound so dry and "alley cat" so disrespectful of the important position cats hold in our hearts. I would love to see the endearing British name for random-bred cats catch on -– "moggie."
Since you didn't say that your cat was purchased with a pedigree, I'm guessing she is indeed a moggie. The pattern you describe is what most people refer to as a "tuxedo cat," a handsome animal who's always ready for a formal occasion.
"Tuxedo," "calico," "tortoiseshell" and "tabby" are words that describe cat markings, not breeds. The familiar stripes of a tabby are the most common of all cat coat patterns and, like other patterns, it shows up not only in random-bred cats but also in many purebreds.
As for breeding your cat, please don't. She'll be a better pet if you have her spayed, since unspayed cats are pretty much always either pregnant, nursing babies or trying to get pregnant again. Kittens are never in short supply throughout most of the year, and many have a difficult time finding homes. Don't add to the problem. -- Gina Spadafori
Tylenol a killer
Q: I read the excerpt from your new cat book in your recent column. I am surprised and dismayed that you didn't mention that acetaminophen (Tylenol) is fatal to cats in the "pain management" section. Would you please do your readers a favor and mention this in an upcoming column? -- Dr. Paula Loniak, Sebastopol, Calif.
A: Thank you for reminding us. We have mentioned the problems with using human drugs -- including over-the-counter ones such as Tylenol -- for pets in many columns, and the warnings are in the new "The Ultimate Cat-Lover" as well.
But you're right: It's worth mentioning again that no one should medicate a pet without checking with the veterinarian first to be sure the drug is safe and appropriate. -- G.S.
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 monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Returning soldiers finding puppy love
-- The Pentagon is seeking new ways to treat troops suffering from combat stress or brain damage by trying acupuncture, meditation, yoga and the use of animals as therapy. According to a story in USA Today, researchers have found that holding and petting an animal can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
-- In Los Angeles, a new shelter welcomes not only the homeless but also their animal companions. The new shelter, PetCoPlace, primarily paid for by the PetCo Foundation, hopes to inspire more shelters so that the homeless won't be forced to choose between getting help and keeping their pets.
-- Global warming is affecting animal migration, according to a study by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The study found that half of all wild animals are affected by climate change and are seeking higher elevations or are moving farther north to keep cool. The climate changes are bringing species into new habitats and changing the timing of breeding, which is now a week earlier than it was 60 years ago.
-- Dogs enjoy worship services just as much as their people do. So says the Rev. Rachel Bickford of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Weymouth, Mass., who started "Woof 'n' Worship" services for churchgoers who want to bring along their dogs. According to The Associated Press, Bickford was inspired to create worship services for dogs when she opened her Bible to a verse that read "letting all living things praise the Lord" and looked down to her own dogs curled up next to her. As with church custom, "all are welcome," but with the condition that all dogs must be leashed. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Sick birds can be hard to medicate
You can't just wrap a pill in a piece of hot dog when you're trying to medicate your sick bird. Discuss with your veterinarian which method of medicating your bird is best for you and your pet, and then make sure you're comfortable with whatever method you'll be using. Have your veterinarian demonstrate it and allow you to practice with guidance until you're comfortable.
Here's a rundown of the options when it comes to medicating a sick bird:
-- Adding medications to water or food. Easy, but not usually the best. You can't guarantee dosage or even if any of the medication will actually make it into your pet, especially if your sick bird doesn't feel like eating.
-- Using a syringe or eyedropper. You can get the appropriate amount in an eyedropper or a syringe with the needle removed, and then slide the tip into the side of your bird's mouth. But your bird isn't likely to sit still for this procedure, so you'll have to restrain him with a towel. There's also the dribble factor -- you may get more medication on your bird than in him.
-- Giving an injection. High marks for accuracy, and once you're used to injecting your bird, high marks for ease as well. As with oral medications, though, you'll likely need to restrain your bird with a towel to inject his medication.
One final thing to remember about medications: Don't stop giving them because your bird seems to feel better, at least not without clearing it with your veterinarian first. It's always important to give the medications for as long as they've been prescribed. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Pet names: When 'Fluffy' won't do
The employees of the pet-health insurer VPI looked through lists of the company's 465,000 insured pets to come up with some of the most creative and unusual names for dogs and cats:
Sirius Lee Handsome
Sophie Touch & Pee
Snoop Kitty Kitty
Rosie Posie Prozac
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
House-training errors not about 'spite'
Pets may poop on your bed for a variety of reasons, none of which involve what we humans call "spite."
A sudden change in a pet's behavior is often the first sign of a health problem. If the pet checks out as healthy at the veterinarian's, then consider any possible new source of stress.
Both cats and dogs may use urine and feces to mark territory when they are feeling threatened or stressed by changes in the environment or household routines.
Punishing your pet only adds more stress and continues a vicious cycle. Instead, look for ways to reduce your pet's stress by meeting more of your pet's needs. Establish a predictable daily routine for feeding, exercise and companionship.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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